In a press conference in August 2022, Igor Kirillov, head of the radiation, chemical, and biological defense department of the Russian Armed Forces, repeated a decades-old myth that the United States created a drug to give cancer to former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was diagnosed with an unspecified cancer in his pelvic area in late June 2011. He quickly received surgery to remove what he called a “baseball-sized” tumor, and received treatment over the next two years in Cuba to maintain his health. Chávez claimed, without providing evidence, that the United States was inducing cancer in Latin American leaders with newly-developed technology.
The United States has denied the allegations several times. In a 2011 press conference, then-spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State Victoria Nuland said the claim that the U.S. had created technology designed to give somebody cancer was “horrific and reprehensible.” Two years later, in 2013, then-spokesperson for the State Department Patrick Ventrell said, “An assertion that the United States is somehow involved to cause President Chávez’s illness is absurd.”
NewsGuard found no evidence supporting the existence of drugs or technology that can provoke cancer in a person, as Kirillov and Venezuelan media have claimed. Katherine Belov, who researches comparative genomics and contagious cancers at The University of Sydney, told Scientific American in 2013 that transmissible cancers have only been found in animals, not humans.
Belov said that transmissible cancers can be contagious because they thrive in genetically similar environments, such as “really inbred populations of animals.” Because humans are genetically distinct from one another, one’s immune system would identify and kill any cancerous cells that appeared in the body, making it highly unlikely that cancer could be injected or somehow introduced into a body and successfully grow, Belov said.
Kirillov, the head of radiation, chemical and biological defense for the Russian military, has also claimed that Claudia Díaz, Chávez’s nurse, was the one who administered the purported cancer-causing drug. He did not provide evidence supporting this claim.
However, Díaz was no longer Chávez’s nurse when his diagnosis was announced. Díaz was part of the Venezuelan military and became part of Chávez’s security team in 2001. Two years later, in 2003, Díaz joined Chávez’s medical team, where she stayed until May 2011, when Chávez put her in charge of the National Treasury Office until 2013, according to reports from the BBC and El Estímulo, a Venezuelan news website.
According to Reuters’ timeline of events, Chávez’s diagnosis was made public in a television address from Cuba in June 2011, over a month after Díaz left the presidential medical team.