CARACAS // For many Venezuelans, the late Hugo Chavez is deeply etched in their minds and souls. But plans for them to be able to view him in perpetuity may have gone awry.
The process of embalming his remains specially so that he could be viewed like Lenin started too late, acting President Nicolas Maduro said.
Scientists from around the world and countries like Russia and Germany have been summoned and the news is not good, Mr Maduro said.
The government had said it wanted Mr Chavez's supporters to be able to visit the late standard-bearer of the Latin American left forever in the wake of his March 5 death from cancer after 14 years in power.
The reason is that "preparatory steps would have to have been taken much earlier," Mr Maduro said. "The decision would have to have been made much earlier.
"So I have the duty to report on these steps so that everyone knows that there are difficulties that could make it impossible to do what was done with Lenin, Ho Chi Minh or Mao Zedong," Mr Maduro added.
He said that he got the idea from his love of Chavez - and from presidents who came from other countries and suggested the late leader be preserved for permanent viewing.
Chavez's casket has been on view for several days in Caracas, with tens of thousands of supporters filing past to bid farewell.
A Colombian embalmer, Camilo Jaramillo, said that to forestall decomposition a body needs to be chemically treated without hours of death - unless it is kept refrigerated at 5¿C. "What I really thought was odd, and what raised a lot of questions, is that they were putting him on display in vigil," said Mr Jaramillo. Indeed, the body was still on display on Wednesday at the military academy where it has lain in state for a week
It was only on Monday that Venezuela plunged into a bitter election fight to succeed Chavez, with Mr Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles facing off in a flurry of name-calling. Thousands of the late president's supporters massed outside the National Election Council as Mr Maduro, dressed in a jacket in the colours of the Venezuelan flag, officially registered his candidacy. "I am not Chavez, but I am his son and all of us together, the people, are Chavez," he said. Wearing red berets and T-shirts emblazoned with Chavez's image, his supporters vowed loyalty to the deeply polarising socialist revolution that the former army paratrooper championed for over a decade.
Mr Capriles, an energetic 40-year-old state governor who lost to Chavez in October presidential elections, kept his followers off the street but warned Mr Maduro on Sunday: "I won't leave you an open path." "You are going to have to defeat me with votes," Mr Capriles said in accepting the nomination of the main opposition coalition. Venezuelans will vote in snap April 14 elections after a brief campaign that analysts say heavily favours Mr Maduro, who Chavez picked as his successor in his last public appearance before going to Cuba for cancer surgery in December.
* With additional reporting by Associated Press