Venezuela ‘air at­tack’ sows con­fu­sion

Crit­ics claim he­li­copter raid was Maduro stunt as vi­o­lent un­rest con­tin­ues

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Vir­ginia López Cara­cas

It seemed like a scene from an ac­tion movie: the tale of a stolen air­craft, a rogue in­tel­li­gence agent and a dar­ing at­tack on the sym­bols of state power in a be­lea­guered trop­i­cal na­tion.

Late last Tues­day, a he­li­copter flew low over Venezuela’s supreme court and in­te­rior min­istry, where the pilot fired sev­eral shots and dropped sev­eral grenades. Within min­utes, so­cial me­dia ex­ploded with video and pho­tos of the pilot, who iden­ti­fied him­self as Os­car Pérez, a spe­cial oper­a­tions of­fi­cer with the na­tional po­lice. In one clip, Pérez held a flag that read “Free­dom. Ar­ti­cle 350” – a ref­er­ence to the sec­tion of Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion that al­lows for civil dis­obe­di­ence against an il­le­git­i­mate regime.

“We have two choices: be judged to­mor­row by our con­science and the peo­ple or be­gin to­day to free our­selves from this cor­rupt gov­ern­ment,” said Pérez, stand­ing be­fore four fig­ures dressed in fa­tigues, wear­ing ski masks and car­ry­ing as­sault ri­fles.

Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro de­scribed the episode as a ter­ror­ist at­tack to force him from power. “It could have caused a tragedy with sev­eral dozen dead and in­jured,” he said.

But the next day spec­u­la­tion grew that the in­ci­dent may have been staged by a gov­ern­ment ea­ger to di­vert at­ten­tion from three months of protests, fu­elled by anger at the chronic lack of ba­sic foods and medicines. Julio Borges, pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion­led na­tional assem­bly, said that he and other op­po­nents of Maduro were still analysing the events. “It seems like a movie,” he said. “Some peo­ple say it is a set-up, some that it is real … but I sum­marise it like this: a gov­ern­ment is decaying and rot­ting, while a na­tion is fight­ing for dig­nity.”

It soon emerged that Pérez had an ac­tive In­sta­gram ac­count with im­ages of him in fa­tigues with a Ger­man shep­herd dog, horse rid­ing and scuba div­ing while clutch­ing a ri­fle. The ac­count has since been deleted. He also has a CV which in­cluded a star­ring role in a 2015 ac­tion movie called Sus­pended Death in which he played an in­ves­ti­ga­tor res­cu­ing a kid­nap vic­tim.

In an in­ter­view with a lo­cal TV sta­tion to pro­mote the movie, Pérez said: “I am a he­li­copter pilot, a com­bat diver and a free parachutist. I am also a fa­ther, a com­pan­ion and an ac­tor ... I am a man who goes out with­out know­ing if he will re­turn home be­cause death is part of evo­lu­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to the min­is­ter of in­for­ma­tion, Ernesto Vil­le­gas, who spoke shortly af­ter the at­tack, Pérez launched four Is­raeli-made grenades of “Colom­bian ori­gin”, one of which did not ex­plode. No one was hurt and the next morn­ing there were no vis­i­ble signs of dam­age out­side ei­ther build­ing. Vil­le­gas also said se­cu­rity forces had been de­ployed to ar­rest Pérez, whose he­li­copter was found aban­doned in a re­mote re­gion on the Caribbean coast last Wed­nes­day. “We ask for max­i­mum sup­port to find this fa­natic, ex­trem­ist ter­ror­ist,” said vi­cepres­i­dent Tareck El Ais­sami.

But scep­tics ques­tioned how an air­craft was al­lowed to cir­cle above such sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment build­ings in a city where even drones are il­le­gal. “If the in­ci­dent of the he­li­copter is a hoax, it means the regime is des­per­ate, and if it was a coup at­tempt and no one de­fended it, then it’s even worse,” said one Twit­ter user.

And as the plot un­folded on Venezue­lan tele­vi­sion, op­po­nents of the gov­ern­ment were quick to point out that sev­eral other im­por­tant sto­ries were tak­ing place off-screen.

Last Tues­day the supreme court ap­proved two rul­ings strip­ping pow­ers from at­tor­ney gen­eral Luisa Ortega Díaz and trans­ferred them to the om­buds­man, Tarek Wil­liam Saab, who is largely seen as a Maduro loy­al­ist. Mean­while a group of op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors said they were be­ing held against their will in­side the na­tional assem­bly by armed mili­ti­a­men loyal to Maduro.

And the at­tack came hours af­ter one of the worst out­breaks of loot­ing since protests erupted in April. Last Mon­day night and Tues­day the city of Mara­cay – home to one of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant mil­i­tary bases – was hit by un­rest in which scores of shops were sacked. More than 70 peo­ple have been killed, and thou­sands in­jured in the lat­est vi­o­lence.

Ear­lier last Tues­day, Maduro had warned that he and his sup­port­ers would take up arms “where bal­lots failed” to de­fend the “Bo­li­var­ian rev­o­lu­tion” of his pre­de­ces­sor, Hugo Chávez.

De­fi­ant … pro­test­ers in Cara­cas

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.