CARACAS, Venezuela — (Associated Press) A prominent Venezuelan talk show host has gone off the air after allegedly being caught on tape discussing politics inside Venezuela’s ruling party with a Cuban intelligence official. Mario Silva, whose show on state TV features verbal attacks against the socialist government’s opponents, said that he would go on sick leave for “several days.” The announcement on his program “La Hojilla” (The Razor Blade) late Monday came hours after opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia released a recording in which Silva purportedly is heard discussing divisions in the government following the death of President Hugo Chavez.
Garcia said Silva was talking to a Cuban intelligence official he identified as Lt. Col. Aramis Palacios. Garcia didn’t say when the conversation was recorded or how he obtained it. Silva said the recording was “absolutely fake” and suggested it had been put together by editing clips from his show, which has been on the air for nine years. “I’m going to be off the air for a few days,” Silva said on the late-night show. “But let me tell you something: I insist I don’t owe anyone an apology, because I haven’t done anything that isn’t revolutionary.” He said that he had previously received medical treatment in Cuba, and that he was hospitalized over the weekend for “complications” related to his gallbladder.
The opposition has long accused Cuban leaders of wielding influence behind the scenes in guiding Venezuelan government decisions. The government, meanwhile, accuses opposition leader Henrique Capriles of being a puppet of the U.S.
During his 14-year reign as president, Chavez forged close ties with Cuba, where he was treated for the cancer that killed him March 5. Venezuela has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of oil to Cuba on preferential terms.
In the recording, a man identified as Silva says he worries that parliament leader Diosdado Cabello, a former army officer, is conspiring against President Nicolas Maduro, who narrowly defeated Capriles in an April 14 election. At one point, the voice says Maduro’s opponents in the party want to remove Defense Minister Diego Molero. “Why do they want to remove him, Palacios? To be able to take the armed forces and put pressure on Maduro or to behave as they please or to pull a coup d’etat,” the man says.
Silva dismissed the recording on Twitter as a “montage” and suggested U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies were behind it. Cabello also dismissed the recording, calling on the opposition to present real evidence, “not a show.” Cuban authorities did not respond to a request for reaction or information about Palacios.
The recording added to the political tension in Venezuela, where lawmakers met Tuesday for the first time since a brawl inside the National Assembly chamber three weeks ago that injured several members of the opposition. In a speech broadcast Monday on state TV, Maduro called for an end to “intrigues” against his administration and the armed forces but didn’t specifically mention the recording.