Venezue­lan troops at­tack on mil­i­tary base

Small band seemed in­tent on fo­ment­ing armed re­bel­lion.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Juan Carlos Hernandez

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.

WIL RIERA / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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