Venezuela expelled two U.S. officials accused of plotting against President Hugo Chavez’s government while the cancer-stricken leader nears his third month out of public view.
U.S. military attache David del Monaco met Venezuelan military officials in a bid to destabilize the country and has 24 hours to leave the country, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in televised remarks today. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said afterward that a second U.S. official was declared persona non grata and that more expulsions will follow.
In an hour-long speech, Maduro also called for an investigation into a theory that Chavez’s enemies inoculated him with cancer and said he had evidence that opposition groups are sabotaging the nation’s power grid.
Today’s announcements come amid increasing speculation that Chavez is losing his battle with cancer and may not be able to continue as president, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who specializes in Venezuela.
“This is consistent with what we’ve seen from Maduro in recent months,” Smilde said in a phone interview. “It’s a card that Chavez played and now Maduro is playing it too. Anytime you hear those kinds of accusations and conspiracy theories, you think it’s an attempt to divert attention.”
Chavez’s breathing problems have worsened after he developed a second “severe” respiratory infection and Venezuela faces it’s most difficult hours since Chavez underwent surgery in Havana Dec. 11, Maduro said.
The government will give a health update on Chavez later today, Maduro said.
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