Government critics, and even some supporters, are ridiculing a state TV host's allegation that a newspaper crossword puzzle may have had a hidden call for a plot to kill President Hugo Chavez's elder brother.
Intelligence agents questioned the author of the puzzle after state TV presenter Miguel Perez Pirela pointed out that Wednesday's crossword contained the word "ASESINEN," or kill, intersecting with the name of Mr. Chavez's brother, "ADAN." He noted they were below the word "RAFAGAS," meaning either gusts of wind or bursts of gunfire.
Neptali Segovia, an English teacher who has prepared crossword puzzles for the newspaper Ultimas Noticias for 17 years, said it was nonsense to think there was a hidden code in the puzzle. He told the newspaper that he went voluntarily to be questioned Thursday after intelligence agents showed up at the paper asking about him.
"I went because I'm the first one interested in having all this cleared up. I have nothing to hide," Mr. Segovia said in an article published Friday.
Other programs on state television echoed Mr. Perez's concerns, but some government supporters questioned the theory in messages on Twitter.
Nestor Francia, a poet and writer who favours Mr. Chavez's socialist government, went further, posting a critical article on the pro-Chavez website aporrea.org.
"The complaint of a supposed hidden message in the crossword puzzle of Wednesday's Ultimas Noticias doesn't at all lend weight to our credibility in terms of the right's conspiratorial plans," Mr. Francia wrote. "From what cheap spy movie does someone get that orders for killings be given through a crossword?"
"We should once against make a call to be serious and responsible with what we say in the public media," he added.
Jose Vicente Carrasquero, a political science professor at Venezuela's Simon Bolivar University, said Saturday that the government is making "generic accusations like these against the opposition to avoid having the electoral campaign fall into pertinent issues," such as rampant violent crime and 24 per cent inflation.
Mr. Chavez, who has been undergoing cancer treatment, is running for re-election in October against state governor Henrique Capriles, and the leftist president has repeatedly warned that his opponents could try to provoke violence or destabilize the country if defeated.
Mr. Chavez, who survived a brief coup in 2002, has previously claimed repeatedly during his 13-year presidency that his adversaries aim to overthrow him or even kill him.
On Saturday, the government held an event to launch a book co-written by Mr. Perez along with Luis Britto Garcia about a 2004 incident in which authorities arrested more than 100 Colombians at a ranch outside Caracas and accused them of plotting to destabilize the country and assassinate the President. By 2007, all were freed or pardoned by Mr. Chavez.
Information Minister Andres Izarra said the book helps lay out "the conspiracies the Bolivarian Revolution has had to face."
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello also raised the possibility of another sort of plot at a news conference several days ago, saying it's feasible that U.S. operatives could attempt to capture leading Chavez supporters and spirit them out of the country.
Opposition politicians have dismissed talk of plots by Chavez adversaries as hogwash. Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said the latest accusation of a hidden plot in a crossword seems to be an attempt to distract from other issues ahead of the Oct. 7 election.
"This is another smoke screen," he said.