The U.S. government could be responsible for a recent spate of cancer among South American leaders, according to Venezuela's outspoken president Hugo Chavez.
He suggested that the U.S. might have 'invented technology to spread cancer', and warned other left-wing heads of state that they could be targeted next.
Mr Chavez, one of several Latin American leaders to have contracted the disease in the last year, said he had developed his theories after Fidel Castro described the CIA's repeated attempts to assassinate him. Although the Venezuelan leader insisted he was 'not accusing anyone', his controversial theory is unlikely to improve relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.
|Outburst: Hugo Chavez has accused the U.S. of spreading cancer among South American leaders
|Illness: Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, have both been cancer sufferers
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina, announced on Tuesday that she was suffering from thyroid cancer, which has a high survival rate.
Other South American politicians who have been struck by the disease include Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff, her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Fernando Lugo, president of Paraguay.
Mr Chavez received treatment in Cuba earlier this year for an unknown cancer, and now claims to be cured.
In a speech made to the military yesterday and broadcast on television, he said that he hoped to call a summit of leaders who had survived cancer.
'It's very difficult to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some of us in Latin America,' Mr Chavez said.
'Would it be so strange that they've invented technology to spread cancer and we won't know about it for 50 years?'
He also warned his allies Evo Morales, of Bolivia, and Ecuador's Rafael Correa that they should watch out for attempts to bring them down.
'Evo, take care of yourself - Correa, be careful, we just don't know,' he joked.
Mr Morales said earlier this year that he was nervous about attending a UN summit in New York in case the U.S. government should plant drugs on his plane in an attempt to discredit him.
Mr Chavez said that he had been speaking to Mr Castro, who is believed to have been a CIA target for many years after he took power in Cuba in 1959.
'Fidel always tells me, "Chavez be careful, they've developed technology, be careful with what you eat, they could stick you with a small needle."
'In any case, I'm not accusing anyone, I'm just using my freedoms to reflect and issue comments on very strange events that are hard to explain.'
The Venezuelan president has been a vocal opponent of capitalism, and particularly of the U.S., since his election in 1999.
He described the U.S. as 'the greatest terrorist in world history', said that George W. Bush was 'the Devil' and described Barack Obama as 'ignorant'.
© Daily Mirror, London
LEADERS STRUCK DOWN
- Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez received treatment in Cuba earlier this year for an unknown cancer. He had his fourth and final bout of chemotherapy in Cuba last month. He had surgery to remove a tumour from his pelvic region in June and is now being evaluated by doctors, who hope he may fully recover.
- Argentinean leader Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said on Dec 22 that she has thyroid cancer. The disease was discovered during routine medical tests, but it is thought she has a good chance of survival. The thyroid gland cancer has not spread to other parts of her body. She will have an operation on January 4.
- The health of Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, made the news in 2009 when she was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph system. Brazil's first female president has cancer check-ups every six months but said the cancer is 'resolved' and she is in 'good health'.
- Ex-Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was diagnosed with throat cancer in October this year. The popular former leader, 66, began chemotherapy to treat a tumour in his larynx, with medics describing him as 'well'.
- Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, 60, was diagnosed with lymphoma in August 2010 but is now in remission after undergoing chemotherapy. Doctors discovered the lymphoma following a biopsy on a gland they had removed from his groin during minor surgery in August 2010. The malignant tumour is treatable with chemo.
© Daily Mirror, London