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Venezuela seems to be preparing its people for Hugo Chávez’s death

Update (5:08 p.m. ET): Hugo Chávez is dead

Since Hugo Chávez went to Cuba in December for cancer treatment, reports on the Venezuelan president’s health have been vague and focused on his valiant struggle to recuperate. In the last couple of days, however, officials have been releasing grimmer news.

Yesterday it was revealed that Chávez had a new infection, making it harder for him to breathe. Today, in a speech filled with bombast worthy of Chávez himself, Nicolás Maduro, the vice-president, said Chávez was suffering his “most difficult hours” since his surgery in Cuba. He also accused unnamed foreign and domestic enemies of conspiring to poison Chávez, and drew comparisons with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, whose death in 2004 is still the subject of murder speculation. Additionally, Maduro announced that the country is expelling a US military attaché, David Delmonico, whom he accused of stirring up support for a coup. (Update: a second attaché is also being expelled.)

Rumors that Chávez is already dead have abounded; last week, a Panamanian ex-diplomat claimed that the president’s life-support had already been switched off, though his sources of information seemed dubious. But if Chávez is indeed already dead, then the trickle of bad news, the sabre-rattling, and the intriguingly symbolic comparison with Arafat—a martyr and hero to the ideological left that leads Venezuela—would all be consistent with preparing the Venezuelan people to hear the bad news.

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