Puzzling clues

A Venezuelan government sympathiser claims to find death threats hidden in a crossword puzzle

The supposed inflammatory answers were “asesinen” (they kill), “Adán” (Adam) and “ráfaga” (burst of machine-gun fire). Put together they could seem like a coded threat to the life of the president’s brother, Adán, but the veteran compiler who constructed the puzzle in Ultimas Noticias newspaper last week has totally denied the suggestion of a secret plot. Neptali Segovia was quoted as saying “I have nothing to hide because the work I have been doing for the last 17 years has only a cultural and education intention, and is transparent”.

The man accusing the wordsmith of the alleged subversion was Perez Piruela, a pundit on state TV. Piruela said “It’s a message…I’m speaking in the name of truth” and then went on to draw an amazing comparison between Segovia’s crossword and the coded resistance messages sent by General de Gaulle from London to France during the Second World War. The arguments over the clues go so far as the meaning of the last offending answer, with ‘ráfaga’ also being used daily to describe a gust of wind, not just a hail of bullets.

President Hugo Chávez has now been at home for a week since getting back from Cuba after his latest successful round of radiotherapy. He has admitted that the illness and subsequent treatment have been a setback. However, he says he is determined to recover enough to reach a level where he can get back on his political horse, rejoin the presidential race and gallop freely past Henrique Capriles, his opposition challenger in the October election.

“As the hours and days pass, I’m sure that with God’s favour, medical science and this soldier’s body that envelops me, I will get back to where I must be, in the front line of the battle, alongside the Venezuelan people, promoting the socialist revolution.”

The last week has been a busy one for Chávez as in the past seven days he has also created an advisory body called the ‘Council of State’. The new national group will have nine members but it has already come into question with regard to the unorganised issue of political succession. The Bolivarian leader of the country has not designated anyone to follow him in the short-term, should he succumb to his illness, or in the long-term, if and when he steps down. Just before one of his recent trips to Cuba for another round of cancer treatment, he jokily warned his brother, (the crossword-concealed Adán), against trying to wrest the presidency from his control behind his back while he was lying in hospital.

But on a more serious note, it seems that the president has not even considered the possibility that he might not be able to stand in the autumn vote, and he has equated his health battle with the battle against the West: i.e., one that he must win, one that he will win, and one that unites all anti-imperialists. Nor has he even come clean about the idea that he might truly lose the election. He has said openly that his rival will not be able to defeat him, but, if Capriles does win (the unwinnable election), then as a ‘democratically mature’ president, Chávez has also said that he will freely stand aside.

With a leader as misty and mercurial as this, it is no wonder that political paranoia is on the rise in Venezuela. The presidential ballot is too far off and too uncertain to call just yet. But as we have seen this week with the scandal over the apparent ‘death-clues’ crossword, it would not be too odd an idea to suggest that the result of the election may not truly lie with the pollsters but with the puzzlers instead.

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