Venezuela's acting president Nicolas Maduro told AFP Sunday that his mentor Hugo Chavez had fought for his life "until the last second" and called for a probe into the leader's death.
"Until the last second of his life he believed that he would live and he wanted to live," Maduro told AFP in an exclusive interview.
A visibly emotional Maduro recalled how he had visited Chavez in the military hospital on March 5 intending to discuss matters of state with the ailing leader, who had not appeared in public since December.
"I was carrying a red folder with all of these pending decisions. I thought I would spend the day discussing various topics. So there I was with the folder. And there he was, probably thinking the same thing."
"He always wanted to live. He had this gigantic optimism and faith in life," Maduro said.
Hours later, the government announced the death of Chavez, a larger-than-life presence who governed oil-rich Venezuela for 14 years and came to embody a resurgent Latin American left.
Until the end the government kept a tight lid on information about Chavez's health, never disclosing the type or location of his cancer and insisting he was still carrying out his official duties.
From December until his death this month, Chavez -- once a ubiquitous presence on state TV and radio -- was neither seen nor heard from in public, heightening tensions in the weeks leading up to his passing.
Maduro reiterated his intention to launch an investigation into Chavez's death. Hours before Chavez passed away, Maduro, then vice president, had hinted that "historic enemies" had been behind the leftist leader's death, a veiled reference to the United States.
"It's a very delicate subject," Maduro told AFP.
"I personally believe there has to be a thorough investigation. You know that some world powers have tested weapons for spreading viruses or cancer, and I believe Comandante Chavez was infected," he said.
"It's a personal conviction. I have many reasons and a lot of information which leads me to believe it."
Venezuelans will elect a successor to Chavez on April 14, with Maduro carrying the late leader's mantle and facing off against Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who lost to Chavez in October.