"One can't equate any hero or human leader or authority with Jesus Christ," Urosa warned. "We can't equate the supernatural and religious sphere with the natural, earthly and sociopolitical."
Chavez, in his days, crossed paths frequently with Venezuela's church, which sometimes accused the socialist leader of becoming increasingly authoritarian. Chavez described Christ as a socialist, and he strongly criticized Cardinal Urosa, saying he misled the Vatican with warnings that Venezuela was drifting toward dictatorship.
Emerging this week from a church on the outskirts of Caracas, Lizbeth Colmenares slammed politicians from both sides for using derogatory language in the campaign, particularly during Holy Week.
"They are not following the words of Christ," said Colmenares, a 67-year old retiree who was holding palm fronds woven into the shape of the Holy Cross. "They should be more humble and they shouldn't be attacking each other that way."
Of course, politics and religion have long mixed in Latin America, starting with the Spanish conquest of the New World, which Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes famously said was carried out "between sword and cross."
In the 20th century, Argentine first lady Eva Peron helped start a leftist Latin American pantheon after her untimely death in 1952. She's since become a veritable saint for millions in her homeland, with pictures of her angelic face still commonly displayed in homes and government offices. Like Chavez, Peron was worshipped as a protector of the poor as well as a political fighter.
Chavez tied his own legacy to Bolivar, incessantly invoking his name and delivering hundreds of speeches with Bolivar's stern portrait looming over his shoulder. Chavez renamed the whole country "The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and ordered a giant mausoleum built to house Bolivar's bones.
A short animated spot shown repeatedly on state TV this month makes clear that Chavez has already become a political saint for millions. It shows Chavez, after death, walking the western Venezuelan plains of his childhood before coming across Peron, Bolivar, the martyred Chilean President Salvador Allende and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, among others.
"We know that in Argentina we have a Peronism that is very much alive," said Acosta-Alzuru. "And there are other examples in Latin America where a leader, a caudillo, tries to be everything for the country. What Maduro and Chavez's followers are doing is trying to keep Chavez alive."
Some Chavez supporters waiting to visit his tomb on a hill overlooking Caracas said their comandante is with them in spirit — and for that reason they planned to vote for Maduro, confident that Chavez was guiding his hand.
Reaching the marble tomb means first walking through an exhibit celebrating Chavez's life and military career, with photos and text exalting a seemingly inevitable rise to immortality.
"He's still alive," said 52-year-old nurse Gisela Averdano. "He hasn't died. For me, he will always continue."
AP writers James Anderson and Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.
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