Venezuela’s chop­per ca­per spells trou­ble

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL - —AFP

Venezue­lans dis­agree on whether a he­li­copter grenade at­tack claimed by rogue cops was a coup or a hoax. Ei­ther way, it shows se­cu­rity forces risk turn­ing against the gov­ern­ment. Author­i­ties said they were still hunt­ing the man ac­cused of pi­lot­ing the he­li­copter from which grenades were dropped on the Supreme Court on Mon­day: Os­car Perez, a cop who also hap­pens to have ap­peared in an ac­tion film. Lo­cal peo­ple, op­po­si­tion lead­ers and some an­a­lysts sus­pect he is just a poser hired by the gov­ern­ment to jus­tify it crack­ing down on its op­po­nents. For oth­ers, the most im­por­tant thing it high­lighted is the del­i­cate role played by the se­cu­rity forces in Venezuela’s po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive cri­sis. “We call on the peo­ple to re­main calm,” said the head of the armed forces, De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez, “but also to re­main on alert in case of an es­ca­la­tion.”

Test­ing loy­al­ties

An­a­lysts at con­sul­tancy Eura­sia Group judged that the grenade at­tack “seems to be in­di­vid­u­ally mo­ti­vated rather than a gov­ern­ment con­spir­acy or co­or­di­nated at­tempt with other se­cu­rity or mil­i­tary ac­tors.” But they warned in a note that the at­tack came as anti-gov­ern­ment protests “are turn­ing more vi­o­lent and test­ing the loy­al­ties of the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.” De­spite be­ing widely blamed for a des­per­ate eco­nomic cri­sis, Maduro re­tains the pub­lic back­ing of the mil­i­tary high com­mand. An­a­lysts say that is key to him re­main­ing in power. But there is move­ment in the ranks. Last week Maduro said he had re­placed the heads of the army, navy, cen­tral strate­gic com­mand and the mil­i­tary po­lice. Venezuela has seen three at­tempted mil­i­tary coups since 1992. Un­rest has mounted over the past three months as op­po­nents de­mand­ing elec­tions to re­move Maduro have staged daily street protests. Demon­stra­tors have ac­cused po­lice of at­tack­ing them.

On Thurs­day state pros­e­cu­tors said in a state­ment they were bring­ing charges against the re­cently-re­moved head of the mil­i­tary po­lice, An­to­nio Be­na­vides Tor­res, for al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. But the op­po­si­tion also knows that some of­fi­cers sym­pa­thize with their side. “This is­sue about the he­li­copter is a clear sig­nal of the dis­con­tent in this coun­try,” said se­nior op­po­si­tion leader Hen­rique Capriles. “There is in­ter­nal di­vi­sion, in the po­lice, the na­tional guard and all the in­sti­tu­tions.”

Dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion?

The gov­ern­ment said Tues­day the he­li­copter used in the at­tack had been found in Osma, a town near Cara­cas, but no ar­rests had been made. Perez ap­peared in a video re­leased on­line around the time of the at­tack claim­ing he was a “warrior of God” and urg­ing an upris­ing against the gov­ern­ment. He has not ap­peared since. For­eign Min­is­ter Mon­cada said some in the op­po­si­tion were “act­ing crazy” by al­leg­ing that “this was a lie made up by the gov­ern­ment, that we did it on pur­pose to dis­tract the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion” from the cri­sis.

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