Venezuela is a country in mourning over their late president, Hugo Chavez. "The fight goes on! Chavez lives!" shouted the mourners in unison, many through eyes red from crying late into the night. But even as his flag-draped coffin floats over a sea of supporters on its way to the cemetery today, “conspiracy theories” continue to spread about a CIA role in his passing.
If the tone of a piece in the New York Times on the day of Chavez’s death offers any indication, official Washington very much wanted him dead. “In Caracas, Venezuela, you could tell a summit meeting mattered to Hugo Chavez when government workers touched up the city’s rubble,” the story began. Ouch! Whatever happened to speaking only good about the dead?
So, did the CIA ‘give’ Hugo Chavez cancer? No one knows.
On the other hand, something is known on a more interesting question: “Could the CIA have given Chavez cancer?
There is good evidence, from at least three separate sources, which indicates the Agency has been taking the question of whether they could develop ways to induce cancer very seriously… for the past 50 years.
But first, a brief recap on the current situation, and the questions being asked.
"A riddle wrapped in an enigma"
Trying to make sense of what’s happening in Venezuela today is as difficult as Kremlinologists during the Cold War cobbling together who’s up and who’s down in the Kremlin based on nothing more than the top brass’ arrangement on the viewing platform during the annual May Day parade.
Today in Venezuela, conditions seem akin to those in America in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack. Until the day he died, there was a very real news blackout on Hugo Chavez’ true condition. And only the Chavista rank and file are said to believe the official story.
The time, cause, and location of Chavez's death is disputed. Where he died is a particular issue.
Chavez was faulted for seeking treatment in Cuba until the bitter end, even though Brazil’s Lula offered him the best cancer treatment center in Brazil (Sao Paulo's Syrian-Lebanese hospital).
Guillermo Cochez, a Panamanian diplomat, gave interviews to Spanish newspapers a week ago saying that Chavez was dead. His life support had been switched off four days previously, Cochez said, at the request of his daughters.
The Cuban (and Vatican?) Connection
Then, on the day before Chavez died, two U.S. military attaches were expelled for allegedly trying to destabilize the nation. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied charges that Washington was trying to destabilize Venezuela.
The suggestion that the United States had a hand in Chavez's illness, he said, was "absurd."
What’s not absurd, say local observers, is that, all of a sudden, a lot of money is at stake.
Chavez had been tight with the Castro’s—Fidel and Raul—for the past ten years. He entrusted them with everything from his personal security detail to running the political police, most of the country's strategic assets, and providing Cuba with an estimated yearly subsidy of $10 billion.
It is a subsidy, opposition observers suggest darkly, the Cubans will not part with willingly.
Thus setting the stage for the fierce debate currently in progress…
Amigo, there's a lot of cancer going around
Chavez’s handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, said the president had been "attacked" by the country's "historical enemies" and called for a scientific investigation. Maduro went so far as to call Chavez’s death an assassination, according to The Washington Post.
Chavez himself had earlier suggested several times that the U.S. might have “invented technology to spread cancer.” And he warned his allies, left-wing heads of state Evo Morales of Bolivia and Ecuador's Rafael Correa, that they could be targeted next.
He pointed out that five major leaders in South America, including himself, all got cancer around the same time. The popular former leader, of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was diagnosed with throat cancer, and Brazil's current president Dilma Rousseff has also been struck by the disease.
Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has thyroid cancer. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, 60, was diagnosed with lymphoma in August 2010.
And now…it was Chavez’s turn.
No nonsense. No kidding.
"It's just not effective," Kel McClanahan, a D.C.-based national security lawyer who has studied CIA habits for years, told Foreign Policy. "While some cancers can be intentionally induced, they take years to kill you. If an intelligence agency wants you dead, it wants you dead now.”
“You can’t ‘give’ someone cancer” declared the president of the American Cancer Society Elmer Huerta, an oncologist and cancer researcher. "That's impossible. To poison someone with a toxic chemical to develop cancer would require "a very long exposure time" with constant doses.”
And South American newspapers are quoting Argentinean oncologist, Luis Romero Acuña, who concurs, calling the conspiracy theory "madness."
Not madness, doc. Madness takes its toll
In the book "Me and Lee" Judyth Vary Baker asserts she worked for a program in the early 60’s to give Castro cancer.
A science prodigy, Judyth Vary Baker was only 19 when she was manipulated into joining an off-the-books CIA project where she met Lee Harvey Oswald, in New Orleans for the summer to pretend to be a pro-Castro activist in order to gain credibility with the Cuban government.
The project, she says, was being run by David Ferrie for Dr. Alton Ochsner, head of the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. By the end of the summer, they had developed a strain of "galloping" cancer and had tested it on monkeys as well as mice. All that remained was to test it on humans.
Ed Haslam, whose father worked under Oschner at Tulane University, concurs. He used the 1964 murder of a nationally known cancer researcher to set the stage for a gripping exposé of medical professionals enmeshed in covert government operations in his book, "Dr. Mary’s Monkey".
The book offers evidence proving that JFK assassination prosecutor Jim Garrison was right when he alleged CIA agent David Ferrie was experimenting with cancer-causing viruses for the CIA. The point was to kill Fidel Castro with cancer.
My interest in David Ferrie was because he was, always, first and foremost a pilot, who had personally recruited the most famous pilot in CIA history, Barry Seal. Seal was the focus of my book, “Barry & the boys.”
When he recruited Barry Seal, Ferrie was running a fleet of fivr DC’s out of Lakefront Airport for the CIA. The Southern Air Wing, if you like.
Ferrie died—murdered, most believe today—in 1967.
The New Orleans Station
While reading court documents from Seal's trial in 1972 for running weapons and explosives, I came across a transcript where a Seal associate who'd gone to work for the FBI was wearing a wire. In it, he boasted to an undercover US Customs agent in New York that the organization could deliver weapons anywhere in the world… with their fleet of 5 DC3's.
After Ferrie's death, CIA pilot Barry Seal had been given control of the same fleet of five DC3's that David Ferrie had been in charge of during the '60's.
From New Orleans natives, who knew Ferrie at the time, I heard stories consistent with Haslam and Baker's, that he was attempting to induce cancer in lab mice kept in cages in his clandestine laboratories.
But what made them believable was when I discovered that, of the many fringe controversies swirling around Dave Ferrie's life, the "fringe-iest" one—that Ferrie was a gifted hypnotist—was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, true.
Ferrie associate Jack Martin’s, in his first FBI interview, had been the first to suggest that Oswald had been several times hypnotized by Ferrie. Martin suggested he may have then somehow ordered Oswald to go to Dallas and kill the President.
After a long search I found and interviewed several of Ferrie’s most prominent Civil Air Patrol acolytes. I wanted to know about flying. But one of them, Eddie Shearer, who knew and worked with Dave Ferrie, brought the subject of hypnotism up himself.
Shearer gave unsolicited first-hand testimony about Ferrie's preoccupation with hypnotism, and his ability to hypnotize people, that confirmed Martin’s account.
"The hypnotism thing with Dave Ferrie was the one thing about him that bothered me the most," Sheare stated. "One time I remember, we were marching in formation—drilling—out at Lakefront Airport, getting ready to go to the CAP nationals drill competition. And this kid was twirling a ‘guidon’—a metal thing, a fleur de lis on the top of the pole with the units' colors—and it got away from him and it cut his hand up pretty good. I mean a real deep gash."
"And the kid gets up, holding his hand, and there's blood running all down his arm past his elbow, and Dave walks over to him and puts his hand out in front of the kid's face, like he's giving him a stiff-arm, and says, 'Sleep. You will feel sensation but no pain,'" Shearer continued.
"And then, while we're all waiting for an ambulance to take the kid to the hospital, the kid is bleeding all over, but he's not in pain anymore now, okay? And then Dave goes over to him again, and says to him, 'You will stop bleeding.'"
"And he did."
"Now, later, when I was in the Air Force," Shearer continued, "I learned that this is all possible, that it can be done. But it can't be done with a subject unless you've been working, hypnotically, with that subject for a pretty long period of time. You can't just walk over to someone, in other words, and tell them to stop bleeding."
"So it became clear to me that Dave Ferrie had been working hypnosis with that kid for a long time…without anyone knowing it. At least I had never heard of it before, and I spent a lot of time out there, hanging around that airport."
Before returning to Chavez, it may be important to note that his death is not the first time a supposed natural death of a high-profile international politician has been the subject of controversy and speculation.
Last year the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed amid claims his death in 2004 was caused by poisoning.
Following an assassination attempt in late 2004 during his election campaign, Ukrainian President Yushchenko suffered disfigurement when he was poisoned with the most powerful dioxin, from which he is still recovering.
Most observers fingered the KGB.
And just last week the British government tried to censor information to be disclosed at a planned inquest into the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in London six years ago, in a suspected KGB 'hit.’
There was the poisoning by umbrella-tip of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, assassinated by the KGB in 1978 using an “umbrella gun” that shot a ricin pellet. Markov died three days later.
Even for his American admirers, Chavez was no saint. Although he lived in a country not know for them, he had a troubling record on protecting basic democratic freedoms. His rein also coincided with a boom in violent crime.
But Chavez did not become a U.S. bugaboo because of squeamishness in Washington about democratic norms. It was because his full-throated advocacy of socialism represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics.
Even worse, it also delivered some indisputably positive results.
So, is it "madness" to suspect something other than the hand of God in the demise of Hugo Chavez?
No one knows. But even if it's not, there's been a lot of it going around.