March 5, 2013 -- Just three hours before announcing the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro had appeared on national TV to suggest that Chávez's cancer was the result of an "enemy attack."
On Tuesday, at approximately 2 p.m. local time, Nicolas Maduro launched into a scathing 30-minute speech in which he constantly attacked Venezuela's opposition, and suggested that "at some point," the "historical enemies of Venezuela" had found a way to "damage the commander's health."
In the speech, Maduro also expelled a U.S. Air Force attaché from his country.
"This officer has embarked on the task of looking for active members of the Venezuelan military, in the frist place to find out more about the situation of our armed forces, and secondly, to invite them to participate in destabilizing projects," Maduro said. He added that the U.S. officer who has been expelled from Venezuela is named David del Monaco.
Curiously, these declarations by Maduro came just a day after Venezuela's communication minister had announced that Hugo Chávez's health condition was "deteroriating," due to a "severe respiratory infection."
Some analysts believe that Maduro was already trying to prepare the country for Chávez's death.
"Chavismo is trying to build a narrative that anything bad that happens to Chávez or the government is the fault of (political) enemies," said Juan Nagel, a blogger for Caracas Chronicles, a foreign policy site.
"In order for Maduro to consolidate, (his power) he needs to call for unity and for Chavistas to unite against a common enemy," Nagel added via gchat, before news of Chávez's death broke out.
Maduro did not explain on Tuesday how Chávez's cancer could have been induced by enemy forces. But the Vice President argued that "something similar" happened to Yasser Arafat, who is believed by some, to have been poisoned by Israeli security forces.
"We already have several clues about this, but this is a very serious issue that will first have to be investigated by a special commission of scientists," Maduro said in the speech.
Charles Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2004, agreed that it was common for the Chávez regime to "blame problems on others." He also added that expelling a U.S. Air Force attaché from Venezuela would do nothing to improve relations with the U.S.
"Maduro was speaking to his audience" Shapiro said. "His interest seems to be to strengthen his own position domestically."
Shapiro also pointed out that Maduro did not mention any plans to cut off oil supply to the United States during his speech, a threat that Chávez had made on several occasions. According to Shapiro, this absence of an oil threat means that the Venezuelan government is attempting to frame its displeasure with the U.S, in a "narrow" way but is not serious about breaking relations with the U.S. on a more significant level.
The Venezuelan constitution says that now that Chávez has died, elections must be called for within 30 days. But it does not clearly specify on which date elections actually have to be held.
In these elections, Maduro will probably run against Venezuelan opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles.
During a second speech on Tuesday,as he announced Chávez's death, Maduro seemed to take a more conciliatory and perhaps presidential tone.
"We ask our people to channel their pain in peace," Maduro said. "This is a moment of profound pain, and in this moment it is only appropriate to show respect for the ideals of peace, nation and democracy, that President Chávez promoted [in his life]."