The Venezuelan government confirmed this week that it will exhume the remains of María Antonia Bolívar, the older sister of the South American political hero Simon Bolívar. DNA from María Antonia’s remains will be tested against those of her brother as part of an investigation ordered by President Hugo Chávez to determine whether he was murdered.
Most historians believe Bolívar died of tuberculosis, but recent research by an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine suggests the cause of death was arsenic poisoning. President Chávez points to these findings as support for his theory that Bolívar was killed by Colombian oligarchs. Researcher Dr. Paul Auwaerter, however, said he thought murder was unlikely and his findings were more consistent with chronic poisoning—perhaps the result of drinking contaminated water in Peru.
Last week President Chávez announced the exhumation of Simon Bolívar’s supposed remains on Twitter, saying he “wept with emotion” upon seeing the bones of the man who inspired his Bolivarian Revolution. María Antonia’s remains will be exhumed at the end of August.
The forensic investigations take place amid heightened tensions between Venezuela and Colombia. President Chávez said Thursday he had “no choice” but to sever relations with Colombia following the latter’s accusations that 1,500 Colombian guerrillas are hiding in Venezuela.