Venezuela Takes Page From Cuban Playbook
Caracas Accuses Washington of Destabilization Plot and Its ‘Historic Enemies’ of Inducing Chávez’s Cancer
CARACAS—Shortly before announcing that Hugo Chávez died, Venezuela’s government resorted to one of the late president’s favorite ploys to try to unite his supporters: allege a conspiracy by the U.S. to destabilize the country.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro kicked out two U.S. military attachés for allegedly plotting against Venezuela and even suggested that Washington may have been behind Mr. Chávez’s cancer.
“Behind all of [the plots] are the enemies of the fatherland,” Mr. Maduro said on state television, flanked by the entire cabinet, state governors and Venezuela’s military commanders.
Mr. Maduro said that the U.S. Embassy’s Air Force attaché, Col. David Delmonaco, and another unnamed U.S. military official had approached members of the Venezuelan military and tried to recruit them into plans to “destabilize” the oil-rich South American nation. Mr. Maduro didn’t offer further details on the alleged plot.
Mr. Maduro also suggested that the country’s “historic enemies,” a phrase long used in Venezuela to refer to the U.S. and its allies, may have caused Mr. Chávez’s cancer. He said the country would likely discover in the future that Mr. Chávez “was attacked with this illness.”
The Obama administration, which has been hoping for closer relations with Venezuela following years of antagonism from Mr. Chávez, rejected the allegations.
“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government. We reject the specific allegations against members of our Embassy,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
“An assertion that the United States was somehow involved in causing President Chávez’s illness is absurd, and we definitively reject it,” said Mr. Ventrell.
U.S. officials said it was likely that a number of Venezuelan diplomats would be asked to leave the U.S. in the coming days.
Mr. Chávez repeatedly accused the U.S. of meddling in Venezuelan affairs before, including backing a brief coup that ousted the populist briefly in 2002. In December 2011, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if “a technology created by the U.S.” was responsible for several Latin American leaders being diagnosed with cancer in recent years.
His remarks came shortly after his ally, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, said she would undergo treatment for thyroid cancer. After removing a growth in her thyroid gland, doctors concluded that cancer cells weren’t present.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo have also battled the disease and say they are now cancer-free
“Wouldn’t it be weird if they [the U.S.] had developed a technology for inducing cancer and nobody knows up until now?” he asked, at the time.
Mr. Maduro’s rhetoric is similar to the kinds of conspiracy theories that Mr. Chávez wove during his 14 years in power, and which Mr. Chávez seemed to have adopted from his political mentor, Fidel Castro, who has long rallied support among Cubans by portraying the U.S. as an implacable foe.
“This has all the fingerprints of being ‘Made in Cuba,’ ” said Moises Naim, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It’s like something out of the ’60s or ’70s, blaming the CIA for poisoning a head of state, but they don’t seem to mind trying this in the 21st century.”
—Kejal Vyas contributed to this article.