Missing Venezuelan chopper pilot behind grenade attack reappears
A Venezuelan helicopter pilot who vanished after dropping grenades on the Supreme Court has reappeared in an online video, as justices yesterday considered whether to hold a trial that would remove the country’s defiant chief prosecutor. Oscar Perez-who claims support from members of the military, police and public servants-urged Venezuelans in the video posted late Tuesday to “stand firm in the streets” in their protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
At least 91 people have been killed in street protests that have rocked the socialist Maduro government over the past three months. On Tuesday anti-government protesters blocked streets in Caracas and elsewhere. Protesters blame Maduro for Venezuela’s desperate economic crisis. He blames the chaos on a US-backed conspiracy. While Perez’s dramatic actions may be a sideshow in the country’s deadly political crisis, the possible destitution of chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega-the most senior figure to defy Maduro-suggests a split in the government that could tip the balance of power.
Ortega, 59, refused to appear in court Tuesday in a case she says was trumped up by the authorities after she defied Maduro.”I am not going condone a circus that will stain our history with shame and pain and whose decision is foretold,” Ortega told reporters. “I have committed no crime nor errors and I am not going to submit to this unconstitutional and illegitimate court,” she said. “We already know that today I will be removed from my post.” Ortega accuses Maduro of violating the constitution with his plan to hold a special assembly to rewrite the document.
Opponents say this “constituent assembly” will be packed with allies that will allow him to cling to power. She had earlier accused the pro-government Supreme Court of undermining democracy through a short-lived ruling that seized power from the oppositionled legislature. That ruling helped spark the current wave of protests.
As violence swelled, Ortega accused police of killing protesters-comments that enraged Maduro, who branded her a traitor. Pro-government lawmaker Pedro Carreno has filed charges against Ortega, alleging “serious errors in the carrying out of her functions.” He also alleged she was suffering from “insanity” and should be fired. The court held its hearing Tuesday in her absence and said afterwards it would decide within five days whether to send her to trial and suspend her from office.
Movie star pilot
In the video, 36-year-old Perez, who is also an elite cop and movie actor, urged the protesters not to give up. “The moment is now, not tomorrow. The moment to wake up is now,” he says. “Let’s stand firm in the streets.” On June 27, Perez and unidentified accomplices flew over Caracas in a police helicopter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court before opening fire on the interior ministry. There were no casualties. Perez appeared in a video released online around the time of the attacks flanked by four masked figures in black-two of them holding rifles-calling for an uprising. He claimed support from members of the armed forces and bureaucracy opposed to the “criminal government.” Maduro branded the raid a “terrorist attack” and part of an “escalation” by rightwing “coup” plotters. He also put the military on alert.
In Tuesday’s video, Perez said the attacks were carried out as planned. “We only damaged structures ... there was no collateral damage because that’s what was planned, because we’re not murderers... like you, Mr. Maduro,” Perez says, pointing at the camera. Perez said his group would join the protests. “We will go out in the streets and will be with you. You are not alone,” he said. The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has distanced itself from the attack. Many people suspect that Perez might be a frontman hired by the government to justify its crackdown on opponents.—AFP
CARACAS: Demonstrators fire a slingshot during clashes with security forces in Caracas, Venezuela. — AP