Venezuela probe unable to pin down Bolivar’s death

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ? Venezuela’s government said Monday that after a year of studying the remains of 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, experts have been unable to pin down the cause of his death.

Vice President Elias Jaua announced the results of the investigation a year after President Hugo Chavez’s government exhumed Bolivar’s remains looking for clues. Chavez regularly extols Bolivar as the inspiration of his socialist-inspired Bolivarian Revolution movement.

Jaua said that experts examined bones, teeth and hair. He said the researchers confirmed through DNA tests that the skeleton was that of Bolivar but were unable to determine if he was murdered.

“We couldn’t establish that the death had been due to non-natural causes or intentional poisoning,” Jaua said in a televised speech.

He said the investigation will continue.

Historians have generally said that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830. But Chavez reiterated on Monday that he suspects foul play.

“I believe they killed Simon Bolivar,” Chavez said. “I don’t have proof, I don’t know if we will, but it’s the circumstances.”

Last year, a doctor from Johns Hopkins University questioned the tuberculosis theory and said he believes arsenic prescribed as a medical treatment contributed to Bolivar’s death. Dr. Paul Auwaerter, who presented his case at a conference, said however that he didn’t support the assassination theory.

Jaua said the possibility “remains open” that arsenic prescribed as a medical treatment was a factor, or perhaps cantharidin, a compound which despite being toxic was consumed by some at the time. “It was wrongly believed… to be an aphrodisiac,” Jaua said.

The forensic studies have involved more than 50 researchers, including both Venezuelans and foreigners, since Chavez oversaw the opening of Bolivar’s coffin last July. For the DNA tests, researchers compared samples taken from Bolivar’s remains with those of two women thought to be his sisters.

The results were announced a day after the anniversary of Bolivar’s birth.