Update, Tuesday, 5:07 p.m. Eastern: Hugo Chavez is dead. Click here for more updates.
Original post: The Venezuelan government's trepidacious update on Tuesday morning that its beloved and ailing President Hugo Chavez may finally be on his death bed was just the beginning: In a televised address on Tuesday afternoon, Venezuela's mercurial and occasionally paranoid vice president, Nicolas Maduro, announced that the country wants to expel an official at the U.S. embassy in Caracas — identified as Air Force attaché David delMonaco — because the socialist government believes delMarco committed espionage. Indeed, he thinks there will be "scientific proof" that Chavez was poisoned.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Venezuelan government expelled delMonaco because it believes he was somehow assisted in an enemy "attack" that led to Chavez's decline in health — despite Chavez's months-long cancer treatments and delMonaco's relatively recent promotion within the Air Force. A Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale confirmed later Tuesday afternoon that delMonaco was "en route back to the United States." The U.S. Embassy in Caracas and the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duffy, did not respond to requests for comment from The Atlantic Wire, but an embassy spokesman confirmed to the Associated Press that delMonaco was the official in question and that the embassy was preparing an official response. Who this alleged spy actually is — well, that picture may just be coming together, or this could all be a bunch more propaganda in what increasingly appear to be Chavez's final days.
Here's Maduro's address:
According to a rough translation of the address's YouTube-generated transcript, Maduro accused delMonaco of seeking to "destabilize" (desestabilizador) the Venezuelan government. Other translations had Maduro threatening "traitors" and accusing delMonaco "for being implicated in conspiratorial plan" that amounted to an "attack" on Chavez over the course of 14 years worth of conspiracies. "Scientific proof" will emerge someday, Maduro claimed.
Meanwhile, delMonaco appears to have kept a low profile. An Internet search turned up a LinkedIn profile belonging to a U.S. airman named Dave delMonaco, who (according to a promotions list published by the Air Force Times) was promoted to colonel in March 2012. An airman with that same name was photographed by an Air Force photographer (see above right) at a military base in Arizona and was recorded in a yearbook published by the Air Force Academy in 1987. (The aforementioned LinkedIn profile indicates delMonaco graduated from USAFA.)
The expulsion of delMonaco is the latest episode in Maduro's belief that enemy combatants are conspiring against himself, Chavez, and the Venezuelan government. In mid-January, Maduro made unsubstantiated claims that Venezuelan officials were being intimidated by Venezuelan exiles at the country's Miami consulate, and in early February Maduro accused a political rival of plotting against the country, without specifying how, exactly, said opponent was doing so.