VENEZUELA will set up a formal inquiry into suspicions that the late President Hugo Chavez's cancer was the result of poisoning by his enemies abroad, the government said.
The accusation has been derided by critics of the government, who view it as a typical Chavez-style conspiracy theory intended to feed fears of "imperialist" threats to Venezuela's socialist system and distract people from daily problems.
Still, acting President Nicolas Maduro vowed to push through a serious investigation into the claim, which was first raised by Chavez himself after he was diagnosed with the disease in 2011.
“We will seek the truth," Maduro told regional TV network Telesur late on Monday. "We have the intuition that our commander Chavez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way."
Foreign scientists will be invited to join a government commission to probe the accusation, the OPEC nation's acting leader said.
Maduro, 50, is Chavez's handpicked successor and is running as the government's candidate in a snap presidential election on April 14 that was triggered by his boss's death last week.
He is trying to keep voters' attention firmly focused on Chavez to benefit from the outpouring of grief among his millions of supporters.
The opposition is centering its campaign on portraying Maduro, a former bus driver, as an incompetent who, they say, is morbidly exploiting Chavez's demise.
'HIS FAITHFUL SON'
“They're attacking him saying he isn't Chavez. Of course Nicolas isn't Chavez. But he is his faithful, responsible, revolutionary son," senior Socialist Party and campaign official Jorge Rodriguez told reporters.
"All these insults and vilification are going to be turned into votes for us on April 14."
Running for the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition is a business-friendly state governor, Henrique Capriles, 40, who lost to Chavez in a presidential vote last year.
Tuesday was the last day of official mourning for Chavez, although ceremonies appear set to continue. His embalmed body was to be taken in procession to a military museum on Friday.
Though Maduro has spoken about combating crime and extending development programs in the slums, he has mostly used his frequent appearances on state TV to talk about Chavez.
The 58-year-old president was diagnosed with cancer in his pelvic region in June 2011 and underwent four surgeries before dying of what sources said was metastasis in the lungs.
Maduro said it was too early to specifically point a finger over Chavez's cancer, but noted that the United States had laboratories with experience in producing diseases.
"He had a cancer that broke all norms," Maduro told Telesur.
"Everything seems to indicate that they affected his health using the most advanced techniques ... He had that intuition from the beginning."
Maduro has compared his suspicions over Chavez's death with allegations that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004 from poisoning by Israeli agents.