Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde
Since the day of Chávez’s death, acting president and presidential candidate and other top government officials have put forward a steady flow of conspiracy theories unmatched by any period in the Chávez era, eight by our count.
March 5, acting President Nicolas Maduro expels two US attachés for “searching for active military personal in order to propose conspiratorial plans to them.”
March 5, Maduro, in the last public announcement before the passing of the President, suggests that Chávez was “inoculated” with cancer by foreign enemies (See our previous post on the issue). He has afterwards insisted many times on this theory, originally proposed by Chávez himself, the latest on March 21. On that day he promised that after winning the elections, he would name a scientific commission in charge of investigating the issue. He also mentioned that “there are already a lot of articles on the internet on this. You only have to look them up. The Empire has created these types of experimental viruses since the 40s. They are methods of biological, bacteriological warfare.”
March 6, Maduro says there is a conspiracy led by Otto Reich and Roger Noriega to assassinate, not him, but the opposition candidate Capriles, with the purpose of destabilizing the government. On March 17, on a TV interview with José Vicente Rangel, Maduro insists on the existence of the plot. He announces that he has proofs of this plot and that he will make them public, but those proofs have never surfaced. Otto Reich has denied the accusations.
March 20, Maduro claims that the United States government has “ordered” the Venezuelan opposition to withdraw from the elections, generate “situations of violence,” and cry foul once the electoral results are public.
April 5, in a meeting with supporters in Cojedes Maduro declares that the opposition “took down the electricity of all the poor areas of Aragua on Wednesday night. There is no technical justification for this, so we have dismissed the Corpoelec [State electricity company] of Aragua and he is under investigation, and all the public officials that plot against the people will go to prison.” Maduro also accuses the opposition of planning a total energy black out in the country.
April 6, in an interview for Telesur, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua declares that “we have filtered through our intelligence agencies conversations from groups of the right referring to the inclusion of mercenaries from Central America in the destabilization activities in the country.” On April 7 Maduro elaborates this plot during a public meeting in Guayana. He denounces a plot of to kill him “generate chaos, and sabotage the electric grid”. He directly accused Armando Briquet, a top manager of the opposition campaign, of being the link between Capriles and “mercenaries sent by the right from El Salvador” that, according to Maduro, are already in Venezuela to carry out the plot.In these new plot denunciations, Maduro has assured that at first he though Capriles was not directly responsible for the wide ranging conspiracies, and that he was only being duped by “sectors of the right” (indeed in the previous version of the “mercenaries plot” Capriles was considered the potential victim of assassination attempts). Now he claims to have been forced by his sources to realize that Capriles, through Briquet, is directly behind the plots.
April 8, Minister of Penitentiary Services, Iris Valera, denounces “a destabilization plan by a well-known NGO lead by someone called Humberto Prado.” This NGO would promote violence in Venezuela´s prisons in order to “rarefy” the electoral environment of the next days. ()
April 8, an opposition group of students protesting for “clean elections” in Chacao is violently attacked by motorbikers wearing pro-government paraphernalia. Six students are injured. Maduro immediately orders an investigation saying: “I have been informed of violent events in the Chacao Municipality, strange violent events involving a small violent group, financed by the government of the United States.”
Of course, conspiracy theories can sometimes be true—Watergate, Iran-Contra, Chávez’s 1992 coup, the opposition’s 2002 coup—the list of actual conspiracies is endless.
And in a region in which the US has a long history of intervention, the population does not necessarily regard theories of foreign conspiracy as crazy and irresponsible but with a “could be” attitude.
But they are also a political tool for unifying a population and silencing criticism. They essentially make dissent look out of place by pointing to an imminent threat that only those in power understand. They also deflect blame for administrative problems such as food shortages, power outages and lack of security by suggesting that the problem lies elsewhere.