Venezuela will set up a government inquiry to investigate suspicions of foul play shrouding the death of President Hugo Chavez, who succumbed after a two-year battle against cancer, the government announced Tuesday.
Venezuela’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told the BBC that the U.S. and Israel were to be held responsible for Chavez's death.
In an interview with BBC in Caracas, Ramirez said he had no doubt that Chavez's death was an act of confrontation similar to the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died nine years ago, following several mysterious health complications.
Venezuela's acting president and Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, floated the claim after announcing the death March 5.
Maduro said he had doubt that Chavez's cancer had been induced by foul play by Venezuela's enemies.
Two U.S. diplomats had been expelled from the country for spying on Venezuela's military, he said.
The U.S. has dismissed the conspiracy theories, with a State Department spokesman calling the claim "absurd,” according to an Associated Press report.
"We will seek the truth," Maduro told regional TV network Telesur Tuesday. "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 state committee to probe the accusation, he said, Reuters reported.
Earlier, Eva Golinger, a Caracas-based Venezuelan-American attorney and author of the book 'The Chávez Code,' told the local paper Ultimas Noticias that the U.S. had tried to assassinate Cuba's former president Fidel Castro with radiation, among other methods, and that there was circumstantial evidence of a plot against Chavez.
"We can only imagine the weapons capacity the U.S. possesses today. They have used different biological weapons against their adversaries,” Golinger said as reported by the Guardian.
In December 2011, Chavez himself had floated the idea of a CIA plot against left-wing targets, while responding to the news that Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Chavez supported his claim with the fact that several South American leftist leaders, including Paraguay's Fernando Lugo, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff and former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had all been diagnosed with cancer. However, these leaders eventually beat their disease.
Chavez had also expressed his disbelief in the 'traditional theories' about the death of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan hero who played a great role in freeing much of South America from the Spanish rule. However, a study ordered by Chavez in 2011, following the exhumation of the 180-year-old grave of Bolívar, suggested that foul play cannot be confirmed if at all Bolívar’s Colombian enemies had something to do his death.
The suspicion of foul play in Arafat's death, though not due to cancer, was fueled by secrecy surrounding his medical records and claims made by his wife Suha Arafat and his personal physician of a huge conspiracy against Arafat.
Arafat died in a Paris hospital in November 2004 after falling ill while under Israeli military siege in his presidential compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. His doctors in Ramallah could not diagnose that he was suffering from an acute blood disorder known as Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), which eventually led to his death.
Tests carried out at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland revealed last year that Arafat's personal belongings provided by his wife contained abnormally high amounts of a rare radioactive element polonium.
Suha, who had not allowed an autopsy despite Arafat’s Jordanian doctor calling for one, demanded exhumation of Arafat's body last July following the test findings.
In November last year, the body was exhumed from its mausoleum in Ramallah for further tests.