The voice is scratchy but vaguely familiar. "I want you to tell the boys," the man says in Spanish, "that today, Sept. 16, I am more alive than ever." According to thousands sharing the recording across social media in Venezuela, the words come from none other than strongman Hugo Chavez and prove that a vast conspiracy is in place. Rather than dying from cancer in March, they say, the recording shows that Chavez was kidnapped and held hostage.
The rumors have gotten so widespread that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro publicly denied them this weekend. According to Maduro, the recording is actually a trick engineered by a notorious political operative who lives in Miami.
Earlier this month, the recording began circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Supposedly, the audio is a call from Chavez to his brother laying out what really happened to the ex-president.
Chavez claims he's being held hostage at the hands of his former political allies like Maduro. "Who would have thought our enemy was within?" he asks. "How many hugs they gave me, how many handshakes and how many lies."
On Saturday, Maduro said the recording is a trick by his enemies to turn Chavistas against him. "These people have no ethical limit, they have no moral limit, they have no scruples," Maduro said in a televised address, CNN reports.
In fact, Maduro singles out a Miami-based political operative named J.J. Rendon as the source of the scheme.
Rendon, a Venezuelan native, is a political gun-for-hire and fierce opponent of Chavez and his allies. He's made waves from Mexico to Colombia for his no-holds barred campaigning style, as New Times reported in a profile three years ago.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But Rendon quickly hit back at Maduro on Twitter, denying any connection to the recording.
Obviously, the audio is pretty ridiculous. But Maduro can hardly blame the opposition for trying to conjure up some beyond-the-grave Chavez magic to hurt him; after all, he told his supporters with a straight face that the ex-president had appeared to him in the form of a "little bird" to bless him as his successor after he died.