Passion, controversy and flamboyance have long been hallmarks in the public life of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and it appears those elements will continue to roil even in death.
Although the 58-year-old charismatic leader had been fighting cancer for two years before finally succumbing on Tuesday, the nation's interim president and Chavez protege Nicolas Maduro used state television to advance the notion that Venezuela's "historical enemies" (read: the United States) somehow induced the disease in El Commandante.
OK, so maybe it is not quite as far-fetched as former NBA star Dennis Rodman acting as an intermediary to broker a peace between North Korea's Kim Jong Un and President Barack Obama, but it does stretch the bounds of credulity just the same.
What is far more likely is that the assertion of clandestine assassination is a rather transparent attempt designed to create martyrdom for the departed leader, which in turn can work to solidify power for his anointed successor.
Chavez himself made similar accusations against the United States in 2005 when he asserted that if he was killed "the name of the person responsible is George Bush."
The U.S. State Department has, of course, emphatically dismissed Maduro's charge as being absurd. But that doesn't really matter because the claim has already begun serving Maduro's purpose. He promised to appoint a "scientific commission" to investigate, which should provide Maduro enough time and cover to take over as the new president.
While Chavez was popular with a majority in the country, especially the lower socioeconomic classes, he was a polarizing figure and many saw him as a power hungry tyrant and an obstacle to freedom and progress in the region.
Chavez, a populist leftist, had turned Venezuela into a socialist state resembling the Cuban regime that he revered in which press censorship and intimidation were commonplace. In January, Human Rights Watch said Chavez had constructed "a legal regime that allows it to censor and punish its critics, in clear violation of international norms."
In this country Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Chavez had "ruled Venezuela with an iron hand" and he encouraged the country to "restore its once robust democracy and ensure respect for the human, political and civil rights of its people."
We share that hope, but do not think it is likely. We fear anyone hoping for such a dramatic shift in policy in the oil-rich South American nation is likely to be disappointed.
The fact is that Chavez had just been re-elected to a fourth term by a 10-point margin. If the voters of the nation wanted to change course, they would have done so in the election.
And Maduro, Chavez' closest ally, seems to be a shoo-in, especial considering that during a Dec. 8 nationally televised address Chavez said Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader with close links to Cuba's leadership, should succeed him. Even if an election is held as the nation's constitution requires, we have trouble envisioning the voters going against Chavez' wishes.
Although Chavez is dead, we think his legacy will dominate Venezuela for some time to come.