The Dominion Post

Chavez ‘dead for months’ before world told

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HUGO CHAVEZ, the founder of Venezuela’s leftist revolution, had been dead for more than two months before his government announced his passing, says his former bodyguard.

Leamsy Salazar, head of Chavez’s security detail, has claimed that the former president died of cancer on December 30, 2012, not on March 5, 2013, as announced by his successor, President Nicolas Maduro.

That would mean not only that the Socialist regime covered up Chavez’s death for weeks, amid speculatio­n around the world that the absent leader was already dead, but that dozens of laws ‘‘signed’’ by the president would now be invalid.

Salazar, who after Chavez’s death served as bodyguard to Diosdado Cabello, head of the national assembly and considered to be the second most powerful man in the country, defected to the United States in December.

Venezuela denounced him as an American stooge and said his testimony was designed to make him money and undermine the government in Caracas.

Cabello has threatened

to sue two Latin American newspapers that reported claims made by Salazar to his handlers at the US Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion (DEA).

They include the claim that Cabello, a former army officer, ran a cocaine smuggling racket formed from the ranks of the mili- tary. Since arriving in New York in the company of DEA agents Salazar has reportedly been providing details of his allegation­s that could lead to an indictment against Cabello.

The damaging accusation­s come as the Socialist government faces the prospect of economic collapse after the plunge in the worldwide price of oil, a commodity that provides almost all of Venezuela’s much-needed foreign earnings.

With rationing being imposed, long queues outside shops and one of the world’s worst inflation rates, the Opposition last week called for street protests against the economic mismanagem­ent.

Guillermo Cochez, a former ambassador to the Organisati­on of American States, said Salazar told DEA officials that Chavez died of bowel cancer at 7.32pm on December 30, 2012, but the Government covered it up to arrange the transition to his vice-president, Maduro, a former bus driver.

Salazar was once close to the late president, who sang his praises on his weekly show Alo Presidente ( Hello, President), calling him a ‘‘humble and great soldier of our marine forces’’.

The government has changed its tune since his defection, branding him a deserter who ‘‘has emerged in the United States as a protected witness to defame, insult, and submit to public scorn the National Assembly’s president’’.

When Maduro announced that Chavez was dead in March 2013, he said the state had been forced to abandon plans to embalm the leader of the revolution and display him like Lenin in a mausoleum.

Scientists had declared that the process would be ‘‘quite difficult’’ because the decision to preserve the body should have been taken ‘‘much earlier’’.

 ?? Photo: REUTERS ?? Living on: Hugo Chavez dominates President Nicolas Maduro, right, and assembly president Diosdado Cabello.
Photo: REUTERS Living on: Hugo Chavez dominates President Nicolas Maduro, right, and assembly president Diosdado Cabello.

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