Venezuelan leader says construction workers see Chavez apparition

Andrew Cawthorne
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) shows a picture of a metro tunnel wall with an image which he says is the face of late President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/ Handout via Reuters

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said an image of his political idol and predecessor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, had appeared miraculously in the wall of an underground construction site.

In the latest of a series of accusations since taking office in April, Maduro also accused U.S.-based social network Twitter of colluding with his foes in a "massive attack" on his and other prominent government members' accounts.

Since his death from cancer earlier this year, Chavez has taken on mythical proportions for supporters, and Maduro has spoken of seeing his former mentor's spirit several times, including in the shape of a bird.

In the latest incident, Maduro said Chavez's face briefly appeared to workers building a subway line in Caracas in the middle of the night.

"My hair stands on end just telling you about it," Maduro said on state TV late on Wednesday, showing a photo of a white-plaster wall with marks that appear like eyes and a nose.

"Who is that face? That gaze is the gaze of the fatherland that is everywhere around us, including in inexplicable phenomena," added Maduro, who won an April election to replace Chavez after his 14-year presidency.

Maduro's reverence for Chavez plays well with government supporters, who treat the charismatic former leader's memory with religious adoration. The 50-year-old Maduro, who mixes Catholic beliefs with a penchant for Asian spirituality, has been a devoted personal follower of Chavez since first meeting him at a jail in 1993.

Workers took the photo with a mobile phone during the image's brief appearance, the president added.

"Just as it appeared, so it disappeared. So you see, what you say is right, Chavez is everywhere, we are Chavez, you are Chavez," Maduro said during an event on live TV.

Stories of Chavez appearances draw mockery, however, from the roughly half of Venezuelans who do not support Maduro. Many of them regard him as a buffoon riding on Chavez's image and causing embarrassment for Venezuela's international standing.

Both sides are gearing up for local elections in December that will be a major test of Maduro's standing in the OPEC nation of 29 million people. Rampant violent crime and economic problems are the main issues taxing voters.

On Thursday, Maduro's information minister, Delcy Rodriguez, said 6,600 followers of the president's @NicolasMaduro account had been suspiciously taken off, while her own and others' accounts had been suspended.

A formal complaint to Twitter was being made, she said.

"We are discovering a massive attack by the Twitter company and the international right wing against the accounts of Bolivarian and Chavista patriots," Maduro said on state TV.

There was no immediate response to queries sent to San Francisco-based Twitter's press office.

The president's first six months in office have been characterized by dozens of accusations ranging from assassination and coup plots to sabotage of the power grid. Critics say that is a smokescreen to cover up domestic problems.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Peter Cooney)