The past couple of weeks have played out very strangely in Venezuela. In the span of a few days, we were told that Hugo Chávez was probably dead then probably not then definitely so. But where's the body? Conspiracy theorists are going to have a ball with this.
Before we start exploring the crazy world of crackpot conspiracy theories, let's get one thing straight. Hugo Chávez is dead. He was very sick with cancer for a very long time, and despite the Venezuelan people's holding out hope that he would recover, Chávez succumbed to his illness. According to his vice president and likely successor Nicolas Maduro, the Bolivarian leader passed away on March 5 at 4:25 p.m. local time. The news came just a few hours after Maduro made a lengthy and provocative speech on television, throwing shade all over the United States and planting the seeds — or at least watering the garden — of many conspiracy theories about his illness and death.
One can't help but wonder: Was Chávez already dead at this point? After all, he hadn't been seen in public since December. And as our cousins at Quartz pointed out, the Venezuelan government certainly seemed to be preparing its people for Chávez's death. A reasonable explanation for this would simply be that Chávez had clearly entered his final hours, and the government was taking the proper steps to ensure a smooth transition. Another interpretation would be more discerning, more suspicious and, potentially, more insane. Perhaps Chávez has been dead for days, and Venezuela's been operated by some shadow government that's been making decisions with unchecked authority. Let's just review the theories so we at least know what the crazies are thinking.
Chávez has basically been dead for months - A week ago, a Panamanian diplomat stole headlines when he told CNN Chile that Hugo Chávez was in fact already dead, and the Venezuelan government was advancing a myth that he was still alive and capable of recovering. Skeptics immediately pushed back at the report, casting said diplomat off as a provocateur and pointing out how all signs pointed to Chávez's survival. However, the narrative that Chávez was being kept on life support was not entirely unbelievable. Everybody knew he was really sick. If the Venezuelan government wasn't waiting to pull the plug, maybe they were just waiting to break the news? We'll leave that question to the conspiracy theorists.
The U.S. infected Chávez with the cancer - This is classic. In a speech that could be interpreted as his first as Venezuela's head of state, the vice president accused an American attaché named David delMonaco of plotting against the Venezuelan government in an attempt to "destabilize" the regime. Maduro went on to detail how delMonaco was "implicated in conspiratorial plan" to push Chávez out of power by staging an "attack" that led to the leader's illness and, as a result, his death. Maduro said that "scientific proof" would emerge to prove him right. This is not the first time that the Venezuelan government has accused the United States of attempting to overthrow the Chávez regime. A failed 24-hour coup in 2002 that reportedly involved the Bush administration is still being processed by the media and academy alike. Did the CIA finally finish the job? Again, we'll defer to the conspiracy theorists.
Chávez lives - Like we said earlier, we still haven't seen the body. This theory could be easily quashed in the coming days with the inevitable memorial service and funeral. But just as 9/11 truthers weren't convinced that Navy SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden since they hadn't seen the body, some skeptics will surely maintain that Chávez is still alive until they see his corpse. Just a day before his reported death, the protesters in Caracas were crowing for more evidence that their leader was still alive. Or dead. The people just wanted clarity, and without seeming presumptuous, it's pretty safe to say that the Venezuelan government does not excel at clarity. (See the above conspiracy theory.)
Believe what you will for now. The coming days will either debunk or goad the conspiracy theories on. Just be sure to draw the line between fact and would-be fantasy. If you can.