Hugo Chávez: Is the US giving Latin American leaders cancer?

The Venezuelan leader ponders whether the US could have "developed a technology to induce cancer".

Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez, has been diagnosed with cancer -- and the news has been met with suspicion by Hugo Chávez.

The Venezulan leader, who was treated for cancer earlier this year, wonders whether the US could be to blame. In a televised speech to soldiers at an army base, he said:

Would it be strange if they had developed a technology to induce cancer, and for no one to know it?

Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, and her predecessor, Lula da Silva, have also battled cancer in recent years. While Chávez was careful to say that he didn't want to "make any reckless accusations", he said that he finds the number of cancer cases "very, very, very strange".

He noted that US government scientists had infected Guatemalan prisoners with syphilis and other diseases in the 1940s, which only came to light recently, and joked that he'd take extra care of the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador lest they be struck down with cancer too.


Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Ignoring devolved nations on Brexit "risks breaking up the UK"

Theresa May is meeting with Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh representatives. 

The Westminster government risks the break up of the union if it tries to impose a Brexit settlement on Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the Institute for Government has warned.

On the day Theresa May is meeting with representatives from the devolved administrations, the thinktank said there were "worrying signs" the Tories were ignoring them instead of treating them like partners. 

The Institute urged the UK government to take steps to prevent "political spats from escalating into a full-blow constitutional crisis".

It stated:

"Imposing a Brexit settlement in the absence of consent from the devolved bodies may be legally possible, given that the UK Parliament remains sovereign. 

"However, this would run contrary to convention and to the spirit of devolution, which recognises the right of the three devolved nations to determine their own
form of government. 

"It would also be a reckless strategy for a government committed to the Union, since it would seriously undermine relationships between the four governments, and increase the chances of Scottish independence and rifts in Northern Ireland’s fragile power-sharing arrangements."

Instead, Brexit ministers from the devolved nations should be represented on a specially-created committee and held jointly responsible for the outcome of talks, it recommended. The devolved nations are expected to want a softer Brexit than the one outlined so far by Westminster. 

It noted that despite the Prime Minister's commitment to developing a "UK approach" to Brexit, there are "worrying signs" that the devolved governments are being ignored.

So far key decisions, such as the deadline for triggering Article 50, have been taken by Westminster alone. Legal experts have warned a stand off between devolved authorities and Westminster could lead to a constitutional crisis.

While civil servants across the UK are now trying to work together, the Institute for Government said their ability to do so "has been hindered by lack of agreement at a political level".

A Brexit settlement could also lead to new powers for the devolved nations, the report said, such as on employment and immigration.

The report said it was likely devolved parliaments would wish to vote on any settlement.

The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has already threatened to hold another independence referendum if Westminster does not take account of Scottish interests, and has pledged that the SNP will vote against the Brexit bill in Parliament. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.