As a former U.S. official with substantial experience in Venezuela, I was not surprised, but still outraged to hear the temporary new leader of that country, Nicolas Maduro, accuse the United States of murdering his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. I feel obliged to set the record straight, not because I care about what Maduro thinks, but because if not challenged, Maduro’s latest falsehood will become another urban legend circulating the globe on the Internet.
U.S. policy requires, if the United States is not at war with a country, that we notify its head of state if we learn of a plot against him. Chávez was in luck because both Shapiro and I served a government whose officials take law and policy seriously.
I authorized Shapiro to notify Chávez of the plot. We then reviewed the means by which he would convey the information: alerting the “comandante presidente,” but simultaneously taking steps to ensure that our intelligence sources and innocent Venezuelans (and perhaps even some suspect ones) were spared the inevitable and savage retribution. Nothing in our policy, after all, requires us to act as a repressive apparatus for a police state.
Some time later, I don’t recall if hours or days, I asked Shapiro: “Did you pass the message?” He said that he had.
"And what did he say?"
Shapiro replied: “Chávez was astounded that the United States would warn him of an assassination plot against him.”