Venezuelan troops attack on military base
Small band seemed intent on fomenting armed rebellion.
Soldiers battled for three hours Sunday morning against a small band of anti-government fighters who slipped onto a Venezuelan army base, apparently intent on fomenting an uprising, President Nicolas Maduro said.
Troops killed two of the intruders, wounded another and captured seven, but 10 others got away, the embattled leader announced in his weekly broadcast on state television.
“We know where they are headed and all of our military and police force is deployed,” Maduro said. He said he would ask for “the maximum penalty for those who participated in this terrorist attack.”
The incident happened during the early morning hours at the Paramacay base in the central city of Valencia. Residents who live nearby said they heard repeated bursts of gunfire starting at around 4:30 a.m.
A video showing more than a dozen men dressed in military fatigues, some carrying rifles, began circulating widely on social media around that time. In the recording, a man who identified himself as Capt. Juan Caguaripano said the men were members of the military who oppose Mad- uro’s socialist government and called on military units to declare themselves in open rebellion.
“This is not a coup d’etat,” the man said. “This is a civic and military action to re-es- tablish the constitutional order.”
Twenty men entered the base, catching soldiers on night watch by surprise, Maduro said. The intrud- ers managed to reach the base’s weapons depot before an alarm sounded, alerting troops to the incursion. He said 10 of the invaders then escaped, some carrying off arms, while those left behind exchanged gunfire with soldiers until about 8 a.m. before all were either killed or captured.
“Today we had to defeat terrorism with bullets,” Maduro said.
Residents who live nearby and saw the dissident group’s video online gathered around the military base chanting “Freedom!” Other protests also emerged spontaneously around Valencia into the afternoon.
Troops dispersed the protesters with tear gas and a man was fatally shot at a demonstration less than a mile from the base, said Haydee Franco, coordinating secretary of the Progressive Advance party. More than 120 people have been reported killed in unrest that began in early April.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez characterized the attackers as a “paramilitary” expedition, saying the intruders were civilians dressed in uniforms. He did not identify any of the participants, but said they included a lieutenant who had abandoned his post.
Padrino Lopez described the man who recorded the video as a former officer dismissed three years ago after being charged with rebellion and betraying the homeland.
He returned to Venezu- ela to lead Sunday’s uprising, said Giomar Flores, a mutinous naval officer now in Bogota, Colombia, who said he is a spokesman for the group.
Venezuela’s latest bout of political unrest erupted in protest to a Supreme Court decision in late March ordering the opposition-con- trolled National Assembly dissolved. Although the order was quickly annulled, neardaily demonstrations snowballed into a general protest calling for a new presidential election.
Opposition leaders have urged the military, which historically has served as an arbiter of Venezuela’s political disputes, to break with Maduro over what his foes consider violations of the constitution.
But the president is believed to still have the military’s support. Like Sunday’s uprising, most manifestations of dissent among troops have been small and isolated thus far.
An anti-government demonstrator in a Russian military hat covers his face with a Venezuelan flag as he protests the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday.