Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin were condemned for the outrage, although in truth there was no direct evidence linking Lugovoy and Kovtum to Putin, only the fact that both were agents of the KGB in Soviet times (as was Putin) and subsequently became independent "security consultants." In addition the polonium used in the murder was traced by Professor (of theoretical physics) Norman Dombey, at the University of Sussex, to a particular reactor in Russia. Professor Dombey also opined that "the involvement of a FSB poison laboratory was also likely" and that in his opinion "the Russian state or its agents were responsible for the poisoning." This hardly seems sufficient evidence to unequivocally convict Putin and the Russian state. But a public inquiry is not the same thing as a criminal trial and so I presume that Sir Robert felt free to speculate saying "the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev (head of FSB) and also by President Putin."
But the Litvinenko murder is not the main subject of this post. Rather it is about the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, that I wish to write and like Sir Robert to engage in some speculation. Since Chavez's death the economy and social cohesion of Venezuela seem to have been spiralling downward. Corruption is said to be rampant. I think nobody would be much surprised if the current president, Nicolas Maduro, were to be ousted from office, one way or another. Of course the collapse in the world price of oil has not helped the Venezuelan economy. But beyond that it seems that Maduro just does not have the same connection to the Venezuelan masses that Chavez enjoyed.
I had not thought much about Chavez's death since it happened. At the time there were some vague allegations that he had been "got at" in some way. But it seemed to me like an unfortunate and untimely death, just like that which afflicted NDP leader Jack Layton, after he had led his party to their best ever election performance and just when he was preparing to assume the role of Leader of the Opposition in parliament. But today I read an article The Strange Death of Hugo Chavez
which is based on an interview with Eva Golinger, a Mexican lawyer and investigative journalist and winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico.
Ms. Golinger begins by outlining the known attempts on Hugo Chavez' life. These include the well-known 2002 coup, when he was kidnapped, but released when the people of Caracas and loyal units in the army rose up against the coup. Golinger claims that she obtained "irrefutable evidence using the US Freedom of Information Act, that the CIA and other US agencies were behind the coup and supported financially,militarily and politically, those involved." Then there was another foiled plot in 2004, when a group of Colombian paramilitaries were captured on a farm outside of Caracas just days before a planned attack on the presidential palace.
But what really caught my attention was the claim that there was plot to kill Chavez in New York during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. This was the time when Chavez referred to George W Bush as "the Devil" claiming that he could "still smell the sulphur" on the dais from where Bush had spoken 24 hours earlier. On that visit Chavez was due to address the US public at a "local, renowned university", but in a routine check by his security personnel, "high levels of radiation were discovered in the chair where he would have sat." The chair was removed and subsequent tests showed that the level of radiation "could have resulted in significant harm to Chavez, had it gone undetected." The chair had been provided by an American individual involved in local logistical support, and who, according to Golinger, "was shown to be acting with US intelligence agents."
Of course there is no real smoking gun here. But if Russian agents had poisoned Litvinenko with radioactive material the idea that US agents might use similar tactics against Chavez, seems eminently plausible.
Ms. Golinger goes on to speculate on whether Chavez's cancer could have been induced by a fatal injection or other means. She discusses how the 1975 Church Commission into the CIA uncovered the existence of an "assassination weapon developed by the CIA to induce heart attacks and soft-tissue cancers." Chavez died of an aggressive soft-tissue cancer.
Of course, there is no hard evidence. But we do know that the CIA made several attempts to murder Fidel Castro. According to Wikipedia the assassination attempts "included cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin; a tubercle bacilli infected scuba-diving suit along with a booby-trapped conch placed on the sea bottom; an exploding cigar, a ballpoint pen containing a hypodermic syringe preloaded with the lethal concoction Blackleaf 40; and plain, mafia-style execution endeavours, among others. There were plans to blow up Castro during his visit to Ernest Hemingway's museum in Cuba." These plots were revealed during the hearings of the US Senate's Church Committee in 1975, set up to investigate CIA clandestine operations. One result of the Committee's report was an Executive Order issued by then president Gerald Ford banning US sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. But in 2001, the 9-11 attacks happened and constraints on US clandestine activities were lifted, if not officially then at least in practice, with then Vice-President Dick Cheney, saying that they would have to "work the dark side." It seems very plausible that with their new 'licence to kill' the CIA and other agencies might have dusted off some of their old weaponry and decided to have a go at Hugo Chavez, who had long been a thorn in their side.
It is interesting to see how many other leaders who have incurred the displeasure of the United States have developed cancer, or died of undiagnosed ailments. Perhaps the best known is Yasser Arafat, who died after a short illness in 2004. The rate of cancers among Latin American leaders is astonishingly high, at least for those whose political orientation is anywhere left of centre. Apart from Chavez (diagnosed in 2011), victims include Argentina's Nestor Kirchner (colon cancer - died of heart attack in 2010); Paraguay's Fernando Lupo (lymphoma - still alive), Brazil's Lula da Silva (throat cancer - still alive); Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (thyroid cancer - still alive); Brazil's Dilma Rousseff (lymphoma - still alive, but politically only just so) and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos (prostate cancer - still alive and still in office). While Fidel Castro survived many assassination attempts, he almost died from a mysterious stomach and intestinal ailment he contracted in 2006 after attending a People’s Summit held in Cordoba, Argentina, along with Chavez and Nestor Kirchner. Castro is the only one of the three still alive.
Of course it could all be coincidence - people do develop cancer and other health problems as they get older. But if the Russian state employs agents to administer radioactive poison to those of whom it disapproves, why should we believe that the US is any different? We know that the CIA has done some very nasty and criminal things in the past. Now with relaxed oversight, it seems to me highly likely that they, and similar agencies, would have resurrected some of those evil practices.
Should Jack Layton's family be taking another look at his untimely death?