Not for the first time, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has announced a “secret commission” to investigate if the cancer that ended the life of Hugo Chavez was a medical assassination as the revolution’s leadership believes, almost to a man.
Why publicly announce a secret commission? Recently, there has been increasing quasi-official speculation in Caracas on the issue and the Venezuelans, it would appear, now have more information, although they are not yet ready to make it public. Maduro probably intends to prepare the stage for a preliminary report. The widely respected Vice-President and the revolution’s highest-ranking Black leader, Aristobulo Isturiz, a man known for his political sobriety, has claimed in recent public meetings that they had failed to protect the comandante.
The Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez, whose father was tortured to death in the pre-revolution years, has said the government now knows much more about the late President’s death. In parallel, several Chavista websites have been speculating that the cancer was induced by “nano-technology”, most likely cancer-inducing pills administered to him by his medical carers. Eva Golinger, a U.S. Supreme Court attorney of Venezuelan-American origin, who has investigated the history of Washington’s complots against the Bolivarian revolution, has publicly backed this theory, though without providing any compelling evidence.
Claudia Díaz and her husband Adrian Velásquez Figueroa
The government started investigating Chavez’s inner security ring immediately after his death and found that it had been perforated. Two names of interest have come up, that of Leamsy Salazar and Claudia Patricia Diaz Guillen. Salazar, a former naval officer, was in the innermost ring of Chavez’s security and, at one point, even assigned to protect his son. Claudia, also a naval official, was his nurse, who had special authorisation to bring him his food and medicines unsupervised. The names of Claudia and her husband, Adrian Velasquez, an Army Captain entrusted with Chavez’s security, appear in the Panama papers as owners of millions of dollars in offshore accounts that were opened soon after the President’s death in 2013. Adrian and Salazar were said to have been close friends.
Leamsy Salazar, one of Chavez's body guards
Salazar, Claudia and Adrian were always one step ahead of the Venezuelan investigators, perhaps tipped off from the inside. Claudia fled to the Dominican Republic with her husband while Salazar travelled to Spain on an authorised holiday. From there, he was flown to the United States, apparently on a Drug Enforcement Agency aircraft that had been earlier used by the CIA in the extraordinary rendition programme. He now lives there under a witness protection scheme. The defection of a Major General, who was Chavez’s baseball partner, to the United States last year after his name appeared in a corruption scandal, made it clear how many in the upper echelons of the revolution had sold themselves to the enemy. He has reportedly given the Pentagon exact coordinates of Venezuela’s missile and armament locations.
Former Major General Hébert García Plaza, former minister of transport, and subsequently of food and nutrition, was also the director of an economic organism aimed at combating corruption. Indicted for embezzlement, for the illegal “purchase” of three public ferries, he escaped to USA, where he is, according to Chavista leader Diosdado Cabello, actively involved in preparations for a putsch
The “induced cancer” hypothesis will raise titters in the Western media but there were many all-too-real attempts on Chavez’s life. One of the first was during the brief coup of 2002 when he was taken as prisoner to a naval base and put on a truck in the middle of the night. At some point, the truck stopped on a dark stretch, the lights were switched off and Chavez was asked to get down. He thought he would be killed at that point. When he confronted the men sent to shoot him, other soldiers on the truck turned their guns on the would-be assassins and held them off.
The next attempt on his life was in 2004 when a large group of Colombian mercenaries was arrested at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Caracas. They admitted in court that their mission was to storm the presidential palace and kill the President. Golinger speaks of an incident in 2006 in New York during the General Assembly session when Chavez famously called George Bush a devil. His security team apparently found their hand-held Geiger counter registering a high dose of radiation from a chair meant for the President.
A sniper and a getaway motorcycle were detected near the Colombian border in 2010 barely 800 metres from Chavez when he was touring a petroleum complex. That year, a Salvadorian mercenary, arrested trying to enter Venezuela, confessed that he had been sent to arrange Chavez’s assassination. A French citizen was arrested in Caracas with a huge cache of weapons in 2009. He told his trial that he worked for his country’s intelligence agency and was deported three years later, reportedly after President Nicolas Sarkozy paid Venezuela a hefty compensation.
The intelligence gathering into Chavez’s death will certainly be done together with Cuba, with its experience of uncovering CIA’s numerous assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. Chavez’s illness was detected in Havana late in 2011, at Fidel’s house, when the Cuban leader noticed that his host could barely speak because of his pain. Most of the Chavez’s cancer treatment was carried out in Havana. In between his bouts of chemotherapy, he saw out his presidential term and won a presidential campaign in December 2012. Soon after, he suffered metastasis and came back to Caracas a few days before his death on March 5, 2013.
Maduro seemed to suggest that the commission would look into documents being made public about what he unambiguously called Chavez’s assassination. There is a domestic subplot here. Some senior Chavez ministers and generals have fallen out with Maduro, holding him responsible for the economic and social crisis. For now, they are a small group without much public support. Nevertheless there is a dispute if Chavez took the wrong decision in calling Maduro his successor. These groups are the most vocal in suggesting that the comandante was poisoned by the U.S. secret services and that Maduro is an unworthy heir. The secret commission is as much an attempt at clearing the fog as at deflecting criticism from the ultra-Left groups that he has been equally incompetent in investigating the supposed murder plot. In death, as in life, politics in Venezuela remains trapped in Hugo Chavez’s orbit.
The Return of the friend, Cuban song from March 2013, by Raúl Torres, Pancho Amat, Arnaldo Rodríguez, Eduardo Sosa, Augusto Enríquez, Dayron Ortega, Lena, Amaury Varona and Yaramy Hernández