Venezuela opens tomb of independence hero Simon Bolivar to investigate death

By Ian James, AP
Friday, July 16, 2010

Venezuela opens Bolivar’s tomb to examine remains

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez has opened the tomb of his idol Simon Bolivar as the Venezuelan government investigates the president’s suspicions of foul play in the South American independence hero’s death nearly two centuries ago.

Chavez announced the exhumation of Bolivar’s remains early Friday on Twitter, saying he wept with emotion seeing the “glorious skeleton” of the man he calls the inspiration of his Bolivarian Revolution.

While historians say it’s well-established that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830, Chavez has another theory, saying he suspects Bolivar was murdered — even though he acknowledges it may be impossible to prove.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said more than 50 experts and other professionals ranging from criminal investigators to pathologists have been involved in examining the remains.

Shortly after midnight, the first tweet from Chavez appeared: “What impressive moments we have lived tonight!! We have seen the remains of the Great Bolivar!”

“Our father who is in the earth, the water and the air … You awake every hundred years when the people awaken,” Chavez said. “I confess that we have cried, we have sworn allegiance.”

The president often speaks under a portrait of “The Liberator” and quotes his words. Chavez also renamed the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and say he’s creating a socialist system based on Bolivar’s ideals.

Chavez first suggested in December 2007 that Venezuela should open Bolivar’s coffin to examine the remains, saying doubts about the causes of his death warrant a full investigation. It was unclear why the government decided to move ahead with the investigation now.

“That glorious skeleton has to be Bolivar, because his flame can be felt. My God,” Chavez said in another tweet. “Bolivar lives… We are his flame!”

Bolivar’s remains have been enclosed in a tomb at the National Pantheon in Caracas since 1876. Foreign leaders visiting Chavez often pay homage at the tomb with flower-laying ceremonies.

Earlier this month, Chavez oversaw another ceremony in which the symbolic remains of Bolivar’s lover Manuela Saenz, credited by some with helping him liberate several nations from Spanish rule, were moved to the National Pantheon.

Saenz died during a diphtheria epidemic in 1856. Her body was burned and dumped, along with those of many other victims, in a mass grave in Ecuador. At the ceremony earlier this month, Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa placed earth gathered from the grave where Saenz was buried next to Bolivar’s tomb.

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