A view of newspaper front pages announcing the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, March 5, 2013.
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro has announced the expulsion of two US embassy officials for allegedly spying on the country’s military, accusing Washington of having infected late President Hugo Chavez with the cancer virus.
Maduro charged the US administration in a televised speech on Tuesday, after holding an emergency meeting with high military command and civilian leaders and hours before the announcement of President Chavez’s death.
Caracas accused the US embassy’s Air Force attache, Colonel David Delmonaco, and assistant air attache, Major Devlin Kostal, of trying to stir up a military plot against the Venezuelan government.
Washington confirmed that the two officials were employed at the embassy, saying Delmonaco was en route back to the US, and Kostal was in America at the time.
Maduro also said that, “We have no doubt” that the President’s cancer, first diagnosed in 2011, was induced by “the historical enemies of our homeland,” a thinly-veiled reference to the US.
He compared the situation to the death of the late leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, who Maduro claimed was “inoculated with an illness.”
US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement that Washington “definitely rejects” the assertion that the US was involved in Chavez’s illness.
On Tuesday, the 58-year-old Venezuelan leader died after a two-year battle with cancer.
Back in 2011, Chavez had accused the US of developing a technology for infecting Latin American leaders with cancer.
Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner Fernandez, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo have all received treatment for cancer disease.
“Wouldn't it be weird if they [the US] had developed a technology for inducing cancer and nobody knows up until now?” Chavez had said at the time.