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Feb 28, 2013 | 03:20 GMT

Venezuela: Chavez Once Again Rumored Dead

Venezuela
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images

According to an unconfirmed Feb. 27 statement by former Panamanian Ambassador to the Organization of American States Guillermo Cochez, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is dead and has likely been dead for several days. Guillermo made the statement in an interview to Colombian news group NTN24, saying the former Venezuelan leader has been brain dead since the end of December. Cochez, who cited unnamed sources, claimed that Chavez may have been disconnected from life support several days ago.

Some major international media have picked up the statement, but it currently remains little more than a rumor consistent with the past year and a half of speculation about Chavez's health. However, there is very little in recent Venezuelan government statements or propaganda to give credible support to the idea that Chavez is alive, much less able to govern, and the rumor comes at a time of increasing certainty that Chavez will not return to public life in Venezuela. Nevertheless, when the official announcement of Chavez's death comes, it will not come through a former ambassador to the Organization of American States.

It is increasingly clear that the interim Venezuelan government led by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro is delaying the transition away from Chavez's official rule. Frequent public government statements claim Chavez is actively overseeing government decisions, though the only evidence to support such claims is executive orders allegedly signed by Chavez, and even signatures can be automated. For political or personal reasons, there is clearly significant pressure on the administration to maintain the illusion that Chavez will return.

Cochez's statement is likely an attempt by the Venezuelan opposition to pressure the Maduro government into moving beyond the limbo caused by Chavez's illness. Very public preparations for elections have been made in recent days by the opposition, which is debating who will lead the loose and fractious coalition of Venezuela's right-leaning parties. Meanwhile, students have returned to the streets, demanding that the government show proof that Chavez lives. The opposition seems increasingly ready to make this a public fight, and more leaks and public pressure can be expected in the lead up to the administration's eventual declaration of an end to Chavez's rule.

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