Caracas: Vice-President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday announced a probe into political “crimes and assassinations” that took place before Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1999.

The goal is to investigate alleged political murders committed starting in 1958, when a military dictatorship ended and Venezuela’s main parties reached an agreement resulting in two centre-right parties, COPEI and Accion Democratica, dominating Venezuelan politics.

Chavez and his supporters have long railed against the “rancid bourgeoisie” in those parties — and link them directly to opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a former COPEI legislator.

Maduro did not give details on the probe in his speech from the National Assembly, but called on supporters of leftist President Hugo Chavez — convalescing in Cuba after a fourth round of cancer surgery — to rally on February 27 in favour of a “truth commission.”

Over the past weeks Maduro has increased his attacks against Capriles, whom he accused on Saturday of conspiracy during a trip to Colombia where he met former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez.

The Venezuelan president, an anti-US firebrand whose presence on the airways had been ubiquitous, has not been seen since he arrived in Cuba on December 10 for surgery. Maduro has since become the regime’s most visible face.

Chavez was too sick to attend his own inauguration to a new six-year term on January 10, which prompted the government to indefinitely postpone his swearing in, while extending him and his current administration in office.

Capriles, running as the candidate for the unified opposition, lost to Chavez in the October 2012 presidential election, but was re-elected governor of Miranda state in December local elections.

Most of the political murders took place in the 1960s when the government was battling leftist groups, historian Margarita Lopez Maya said.

In late 2011, the pro-Chavez-dominated National Assembly approved a law to “sanction the crimes, disappearances, tortures and other human rights violations that took place for political reasons” between 1958 and 1999.