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Venezuela to investigate Hugo Chávez poisoning claims

Posted by admin On March - 13 - 2013

Caracas FC supporters display a banner paying tribute to the former Venezuelan president

Caracas FC supporters display a banner paying tribute to Hugo Chávez during a match against Grêmio of Brazil this week. Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty
Acting president vows to ‘seek truth’ over Chávez’s death amid fears his cancer was result of poisoning by foreign rivals
Venezuela will launch an inquiry into claims that Hugo Chávez’s cancer was the result of poisoning by his enemies abroad, the government has said.

Critics of the government view the accusation as a typical Chávez-style conspiracy theory intended to feed fears of “imperialist” threats to Venezuela’s socialist system and distract people from daily problems.

Acting president Nicolás Maduro vowed to open an investigation into the claims surrounding the death of the president, which were first raised by Chávez after he was diagnosed with the disease in 2011.

“We will seek the truth,” Maduro told the Telesur regional TV network. “We have the intuition that our commander Chávez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way.”

 Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/PA
Foreign scientists will be invited to join a state committee to investigate the accusation, he said.

Maduro, 50, is Chávez’s handpicked successor and is running as the government’s candidate in a snap presidential election on 14 April that was triggered by the president’s death last week.

He is trying to keep voters’ attention focused on Chávez to benefit from the outpouring of grief among his millions of supporters. The opposition is centring its campaign on portraying Maduro, a former bus driver, as an incompetent who is exploiting Chávez’s demise.

“Let’s take the president (Chávez) away from the political debate, out of respect for his memory, his family, his supporters,” opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ campaign chief, Henri Falcon, told reporters.

Polls from before Chávez’s death gave Maduro a lead of more than 10 percentage points over Capriles. He lost to Chávez by 11 percentage points in October.

Capriles has tried to jump-start his campaign with accusations that Maduro and other senior officials lied about the details of Chávez’s illness, hiding the gravity of his condition from Venezuelans.

That sparked a torrent of attacks, with senior government officials using words like “Nazi” and “fascist” to describe Capriles, who has Jewish ancestors.

 Nicolás Maduro said the former president’s cancer ‘broke all norms’. Photograph: Mauricio Valenzuela/Xinhua Press/Corbis
In a televised message, the information minister, Ernesto Villegas, read a letter to the “sick opposition” from the late president’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chávez, who has at times been viewed as a possible future successor.

“Stop playing with the pain of a nation and a devastated family,” she wrote. “It is unfair, inhuman, unacceptable that they now say we were lying about the date of his (death) … Focus on politics, don’t play dirty.”

Capriles was quick to respond with a flurry of tweets: “Never, in all these years, have I offended the president or his family. If one word has been taken thus by his family, I’m sorry,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I don’t offend families as they have mine. They have even called me a Nazi, when my great-grandparents were murdered in a Nazi concentration camp,” he added, referring to the government.

In an increasingly acrimonious campaign, both sides on Tuesday accused each other of planning violence.

The opposition displayed photos circulating on the internet showing an assault rifle and a pistol being held up to a TV screen that was broadcasting Capriles’ face. They also said there were indications of plans to attack Capriles when he was scheduled to register his candidacy on Monday. In the end, aides went instead.

Government spokesmen repeated accusations that opposition activists planned to disrupt Maduro’s campaign. In an attempt to discredit Capriles, they waved photos of a plush New York apartment they said belonged to him, and displayed copies of university documents they claimed showed he never completed a law degree.

Capriles, 40, a business-friendly regional governor running for the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition, is trying to dissociate Maduro from Chávez in voters’ minds.

“He’s attacking Nicolás Maduro, saying Nicolás is not Chávez,” senior Socialist Party official and Maduro’s campaign chief Jorge Rodríguez said.

“Of course Nicolás isn’t Chávez, but he is his faithful, responsible, revolutionary son. All these insults and vilification are going to be turned into votes for us,” he said.

Tuesday was the last day of official mourning for Chávez, although public tributes are likely to continue. His embalmed body will be taken in procession to a military museum on Friday.

 Hundreds of Chávez supporters gather for his funeral. Photograph: EPA
Millions have filed past Chávez’s coffin to pay homage to a man who was adored by many of the poor for his humble roots and welfare policies, but was also loathed by many for his authoritarian style and bullying of opponents.

Though Maduro has spoken about combating crime and extending development programmes in the slums, he has mostly used his frequent appearances on state TV to talk about Chávez.

The 58-year-old president was diagnosed with pelvic cancer in June 2011 and underwent four operations before dying of what sources said was metastasis in the lungs.

Maduro said it was too early to specifically point a finger over Chávez’s cancer, but noted that the US had laboratories with experience in producing diseases.

“He had a cancer that broke all norms,” Maduro told Telesur. “Everything seems to indicate that they (enemies) affected his health using the most advanced techniques.”

Maduro has compared his suspicions over Chávez’s death with allegations that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004 from poisoning by Israeli agents.

The case echoes Chávez’s long campaign to convince the world that his idol and Venezuela’s independence hero Simón Bolívar died of poisoning by his rivals in Colombia in 1830.


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