Same Tune: Chavez’ Heir Alleges U.S. Plots, Rails Against Pentagon, CIA

By Patrick Goodenough | March 20, 2013 | 4:36 AM EDT

Nicolas Maduro – then vice president, now interim president of Venezuela – arrives for Hugo Chavez’ funeral in Caracas on March 8. On the right is Foreign Minister Elias Jaua. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

( – The Cuban-backed socialist politician running to succeed the late Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s president called on President Obama Tuesday to stop the “insane hawks” in the Pentagon and CIA who, he charged, were conspiring to sabotage the election.

Interim president Nicolas Maduro said in a campaign speech in the country’s south-west that American officials were advising his rival in the April 14 election – center-right state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski – to “withdraw from or sabotage” the election, in order to avoid anticipated defeat.

The Pentagon and CIA held the “real power” in the U.S., he declared, while the president was merely “an actor.”

It was the latest in a series of bizarre allegations by the man Chavez named as heir to his left-wing “Bolivarian revolution” before succumbing to cancer early this month.

Apart from accusing enemies abroad of being responsible for Chavez’ illness, Maduro in recent days also charged that two former George W. Bush administration officials, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, along with the CIA and Pentagon, were plotting to assassinate Capriles, in order “to create chaos.”

Maduro made the allegation in a television interview broadcast on Sunday, reprising a claim he first made during a televised speech last Wednesday.

At Monday’s daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded to a question on the matter by stating, “Let me say it here, extremely clearly, looking right at you: The United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plots to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela.”

Reich and Noriega, who served successively as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs during the Bush administration, have also both strongly denied the claims. (Noriega is also former ambassador to the Organization of American States while Reich served as ambassador to Venezuela during the Reagan administration.)

Noriega, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, cautioned in an article that Maduro’s charges were “no laughing matter,” arguing that he was following a script dictated by the Cuban regime.

“I have been studying the Cuban dictatorship for most of my adult life, and Havana employs a sinister tactic of ascribing to their critics what are actually motives and methods of the Castro regime,” Noriega wrote.

“I believe that any attempt to physically harm Capriles Radonski – or Maduro, for that matter – or to spark political violence in Venezuela would be a terrible tragedy,” he said. “No responsible person would consider such a strategy, which is precisely why the Castro regime is capable of doing so.”

Noriega also warned that an act of violence against any senior Chavista official or military figure could “serve as a pretext for a political crackdown against the democratic opposition.”

Meanwhile Cuban state media gave prominent coverage Tuesday to two opinion polls showing Maduro leading Capriles among likely Venezuelan voters by 14 and 18 points respectively.

The communist Castro regime benefitted from subsidized oil imports from energy-rich Venezuela, amounting to some 100,000 barrels a day, and Capriles is pledging to end that Chavez-era policy should he be elected president.

“Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros,” the candidate told university students in the west of the country on Monday.

While Maduro was “the candidate of the Castros,” Capriles said, “I am the candidate of Venezuela and the Venezuelans.”

Mark Jones, chair of political science at Rice University, said earlier that the end of the Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba “would cripple the country’s already struggling economy.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow