The Venezuelan government has said that it will set up a formal inquiry into suspicions that the late President Hugo Chavez’s cancer was the result of poisoning by his enemies abroad.
The decision to probe the circumstances surrounding the former president’s death comes days after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the foreign dignitaries at Chavez’s funeral, alleged he died of a “suspect illness”.
Acting President Nicolas Maduro, handpicked by Chavez to run the country as the president underwent surgery in Cuba, also said the socialist leader had been “poisoned”.
“We will seek the truth,” Maduro told regional TV network Telesur late on Monday.
“We have the intuition that our commander Chavez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way.”
Foreign scientists will be invited to join a government commission to probe the accusation, the OPEC nation’s acting leader said.
But the the accusation has been derided by critics of the government, who view it as a typical Chavez-style conspiracy theory intended to feed fears of “imperialist” threats to Venezuela’s socialist system and distract people from daily problems.
Maduro, a candidate in the April 14 snap election to choose Venezuela’s new president, is trying to keep voters’ attention firmly focused on Chavez to benefit from the outpouring of grief among his millions of supporters, analysts said.
The opposition is centering its campaign on portraying Maduro, a former bus driver, as an incompetent who, they say, is morbidly exploiting Chavez’s demise.
“They’re attacking him saying he isn’t Chavez. Of course Nicolas isn’t Chavez. But he is his faithful, responsible, revolutionary son,” senior Socialist Party and campaign official Jorge Rodriguez told reporters.
“All these insults and vilification are going to be turned into votes for us on April 14.”
Running for the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition is a business-friendly state governor, Henrique Capriles, 40, who lost to Chavez in a presidential vote last year.
Tuesday was the last day of official mourning for Chavez, although ceremonies appear set to continue. His embalmed body was to be taken in procession to a military museum on Friday.
Millions have filed past Chavez’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 hated by many people for his authoritarian style and bullying of opponents.