In the ongoing saga of the fate of Venezuela’s recently re-elected but cancer-wracked President Hugo Chávez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro headed to Havana on Wednesday to visit his ailing boss, but not before claiming on national television that an assassination plot by unnamed external forces had been discovered.
Meanwhile, Spain’s influential El Pais daily published on Thursday an “exclusive” photo of the sick Bolivarian leader with breathing tubes down his throat, according to the newspaper. Thirty minutes after posting the image on its website, the paper had to retract it after it was discovered that the patient in question was an unidentified Chávez doppelganger.
Cuban state television showed Maduro late Wednesday being greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after arriving in Havana. The status of the Venezuelan leader is unknown. The official line is that the president is recovering, lucid and undergoing physical therapy in preparation or his return, but Chavez has not presented himself publicly in nearly two months.
Prior to his departure, Maduro said in a public speech in Caracas that "groups that have infiltrated the country” were plotting to attack him or other high ranking members of the government.
"Don't be surprised by the actions that will be taken in the coming days,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Chávez’s absence has raised speculation over a growing rift within the ruling United Socialist Party, particularly between Maduro and the head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello.
Maduro’s nebulous comments about unnamed foreign assassins may be an attempt to suggest that any perceived rift between the head of the unicameral legislature and the vice president is being fostered by outside interests, which is likely a reference to the United States or Venezuelan opponents living abroad.
Cabello and Maduro have been seen together on numerous occasions during Chávez’s convalescence in Cuba, and both men have made statements assuring that any internal political bickering is just part of the natural political process and not a sign of a deepening schism.
The state of Chávez’s health will remain a matter of speculation until the man himself appears smiling on national television. Thursday’s journalistic flub from one of Spain’s top newspapers sparked outrage among supporters of the Venezuelan leader.
Ernesto Villegas of the Venezuelan communications ministry condemned the newspaper on his Twitter feed for publishing a “grotesque and fake” photo depicting a close-up shot of a man who resembles the Velezuelan leader seemingly unconscious with tubes down his throat. The paper posted a lengthy correction on its website.