CARACAS - Lidia Gonzalez doesn't have time to look for counter-revolutionaries. She's too busy looking for sugar.
Hours after Venezuelan Vice President -- and current de facto leader of the country in Hugo Chávez's absence -- Nicolás Maduro told the nation that government security forces had uncovered a plot to assassinate him and the president of the National Assembly, Gonzalez was waiting in line at the store. Shelves were riddled with empty spaces where the food used to be.
An employee at the Agriculture Ministry here in Venezuela's capital city, she was returning home when a friend called to let her know that sugar had just been delivered at their local supermarket. She promptly forgot about Maduro and his exhortations to beware of foreign agents looking to destabilize the country.
"I haven't seen sugar in weeks," she says. "The revolution is important and I love our president. But I suspect Maduro was just talking nonsense. It's just another farce, another show. They have cried wolf too often."
Maduro made his accusations before tens of thousands of red-shirted followers who heeded the government's appeal to flood the streets of Caracas on Jan. 23 in a show of support for President Hugo Chávez. The president remains in intensive care in a Cuban hospital and hasn't been seen or heard from since Dec. 11, when he underwent his fourth operation for cancer. Since then, there have been repeated rumors that he is unconscious, breathing with a ventilator, or dead. All have vehemently been denied by Maduro and the government. Doubts only grew after the Madrid-based El Pais erroneously published a photo of a man it claimed was Chávez breathing with the help of a machine. The paper subsequently said it had been duped and that the photo had come from a medical website. The Venezuelan government has vowed to sue the paper in Spanish courts.
Maduro said during the Jan. 23 rally -- which was held on the 55th anniversary of the overthrow of Venezuela's last dictator, Marcos Pérez Jiménez -- that right-wing extremists from both Venezuela and abroad were involved in the assassination plot. He often had to shout above the din of his supporters, many of whom were chanting "With Chávez and Maduro, the country is safer!'' and "They will not return!" in reference to the country's pre-Chávez leaders.
"We have been following for some weeks groups who have infiltrated the country with the objective of making an attempt against the life of my colleague, [National Assembly President] Diosdado Cabello and against my life," Maduro said to the crowd. "The criminals who have slipped into our country aren't here to ask us for cacao."
Maduro, who was anointed Chávez's heir apparent on Dec. 8, provided no proof of his allegations, but said the government would shortly take action against the plotters. After the speech, Maduro left for Cuba where he said he would meet with Chávez, leaving others to give more details.