Thu, Jul 28, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Hugo Chavez theory about Bolivar death likely proven wrong

The Guardian, CARACAS

It was approaching 3am when a cluster of masked forensic doctors appeared on national television clad in white, astronaut-like suits.

Few Venezuelans were tuned in for the pre-dawn exhumation of former Venezuelan president Simon Bolivar, the South American liberation hero, on July 16 last year. However, for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, it was an event of monumental importance.

‘BOLIVAR LIVES’

“My God. Bolivar lives,” he tweeted, as a tiny skeleton was hauled from its tomb in Caracas’ National Pantheon. “It’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned.”

Chavez had hoped Bolivar’s exhumation would help solve what he has called “the great farce” surrounding his death.

While most historians believe the inspiration for Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” died of tuberculosis in 1830, Venezuela’s outspoken president thinks otherwise. He claimed Bolivar was the victim of a murderous conspiracy and had been poisoned by Colombian oligarchs. He wanted forensic scientists to prove it.

Was Chavez right?

One year on and the answer is almost certainly no.

“We could not establish the death was by non-natural means or by intentional poisoning,” Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said on Monday.

NO SMOKING GUN

DNA samples failed to provide the smoking gun sought by the Venezuelan leader. Scientists found traces of toxins, including arsenic, in Bolivar’s bones, leaving the door open to the idea that he had been accidentally poisoned, possibly by medicines, but no proof of deliberate assassination.

Despite the findings, Chavez was unmoved.

“They killed Simon Bolivar. They murdered him and, even though I don’t have proof, the circumstances in which he died point to that,” he said in an interview with state-controlled television.

“The Venezuelan bourgeoisie ... continue to say that we are trying to change history. No. They changed it,” he added.

By most accounts, Bolivar died of tuberculosis on Dec. 17, 1830, at the age of 47. A series of alternative theories have surfaced over the years.

DOUBTS

Last year, Paul Auwaerter, from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, provided Chavez with ammunition, casting doubt on claims that Bolivar died from tuberculosis.

“There were features that were incompatible with TB, like for example that he never coughed up blood,” he said.

However, Auwaerter has distanced himself from the idea that Bolivar was intentionally poisoned.

“Although President Chavez took my comments about arsenic to mean that he was assassinated, I thought Bolivar’s physicians were giving him arsenic medicines, which was quite popular at this time, to improve his health,” he said on Tuesday.

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