Venezuela sol­diers re­pel foes’ at­tack

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Juan Carlos Hernandez, Fabi­ola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda, Chris­tine Armario and Joshua Good­man of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Daniel Can­cel, Fabi­ola Zerpa, Wal­ter Brandi­marte and Jose Orozco of Bloomberg News; by Pa

VA­LEN­CIA, Venezuela — Sol­diers bat­tled for three hours Sun­day morn­ing against a small band of anti-gov­ern­ment fight­ers who sneaked 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, Maduro 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, adding 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 around 4:30 a.m.

“At dawn, ter­ror­ists en­tered the Para­macay base in Va­len­cia to at­tack our na­tional armed forces. There are sev­eral ter­ror­ists de­tained,” Dios­dado Ca­bello, a long­time gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial and law­maker who’s cur­rently one of the high­est-rank­ing mem­bers of Maduro’s so­cial­ist party, said on his Twit­ter ac­count. “There’s ab­so­lute calm in the other mil­i­tary bases.”

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 Maduro’s gov­ern­ment. He 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-es­tab­lish the con­sti­tu­tional or­der.”

Twenty men en­tered the base, catch­ing sol­diers on night watch by sur­prise, Maduro said. The in­trud­ers 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., when all had been 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 emerged 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 op­po­si­tion Pro­gres­sive Ad­vance party. More than 120 peo­ple have been re­ported killed in anti-gov­ern­ment un­rest that be­gan in early April.

A video later showed Bo­li­var­ian Army Cmdr. Je­sus Suarez Chou­rio — sur­rounded by troops he said were from the 41st Bri­gade on the base — declar­ing vic­tory over the “merce­nary para­mil­i­tary ter­ror­ist at­tack.”

“They as­saulted us, but we sup­pressed them,” said Suarez Chou­rio, who is un­der U.S. sanc­tions for vi­o­lently re­press­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­sent.

QUES­TIONS RAISED

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 he said they in­cluded a lieu­tenant who had aban­doned his post. He said the man who recorded the video was a for­mer of­fi­cer dis­missed three years ago after be­ing charged with re­bel­lion and be­tray­ing the home­land.

In 2014, Caguar­i­pano re­leased a 12-minute video de­nounc­ing Maduro dur­ing a pre­vi­ous wave of anti-gov­ern­ment un­rest. He later re­port­edly sought ex­ile after a mil­i­tary tri­bunal or­dered his ar­rest, ap­pear­ing in an in­ter­view on CNN en Es­panol to draw at­ten­tion to what he said was dis­con­tent within mil­i­tary ranks.

He re­turned to Venezuela 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.

It was not the first time this sum­mer that the gov­ern­ment had faced rebellious of­fi­cers. On June 27, a rogue fac­tion of the Venezue­lan po­lice at­tacked the coun­try’s Supreme Court and the In­te­rior Min­istry from a he­li­copter. The group re­leased a video in which an of­fi­cer named Os­car Perez urged Venezue­lans to “fight for their le­git­i­mate rights.”

No one was in­jured in that at­tack.

An­a­lysts ques­tioned de­tails of Sun­day’s in­ci­dent. Ro­cio San Miguel, who stud­ies the mil­i­tary in Venezuela, said in posts on her Twit­ter ac­count that Caguar­i­pano had es­caped to Colom­bia sev­eral years ago. She also ques­tioned why Ca­bello — one of Maduro’s clos­est al­lies — rather than the Padrino Lopez would have been the one to pro­vide some of the ear­li­est de­tails of the in­ci­dent.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., who has been push­ing for sanc­tions against Maduro’s gov­ern­ment, said on Twit­ter that Ca­bello’s act­ing as a gov­ern­ment spokesman on the in­ci­dent “shows who’s in charge of se­cu­rity forces in Venezuela.” He called Ca­bello, who has long been the sub­ject of al­le­ga­tions that he’s in­volved in drug traf­fick­ing, a “narco leader.”

Ca­bello re­sponded that Ru­bio was the first “char­ac­ter” to “de­fend the ter­ror­ist at­tack.”

Padrino Lopez al­leged the at­tack­ers were re­cruited by “right-wing ex­trem­ists” work­ing with un­spec­i­fied for­eign gov­ern­ments. Maduro said the at­tack was “paid for by Mi­ami and Colom­bia” — ar­eas with large num­bers of Venezue­lans who op­pose his gov­ern­ment. Nei­ther pro­vided spe­cific de­tails on how they had come to that con­clu­sion.

“Today’s ter­ror­ist at­tack is no more than a pro­pa­ganda show,” Padrino Lopez said.

MIL­I­TARY’S SUP­PORT

Venezuela’s month­s­long bout of po­lit­i­cal un­rest broke out in protest to a Supreme Court de­ci­sion in late March that or­dered the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly be dis­solved. Al­though the or­der was quickly an­nulled, near-daily demon­stra­tions snow­balled into a gen­eral protest call­ing for a new pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have urged the mil­i­tary 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.

In a state­ment, the mil­i­tary said it re­mains “mono­lith­i­cally united” in its “un­con­di­tional” sup­port for Maduro.

The mil­i­tary plays a prom­i­nent role in Venezuela. For­mer Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez cre­ated what he called a “civil­ian-mil­i­tary union” to de­fend his so­cial­ist rev­o­lu­tion and to carry out tasks such as food dis­tri­bu­tion. Padrino Lopez has re­peat­edly said the mil­i­tary sup­ports Maduro.

As with Sun­day’s up­ris­ing, most man­i­fes­ta­tions of dis­sent among troops have been small and iso­lated thus far.

“It’s still very hard to know to what ex­tent there are sig­nif­i­cant di­vi­sions within the mil­i­tary,” Michael Shifter, pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton-based think tank In­ter-Amer­i­can Di­a­logue, said re­cently.

The at­tack capped an al­ready tense week­end dur­ing which a new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly, which will rule with nearly un­lim­ited pow­ers, voted to re­move chief pros­e­cu­tor Luisa Ortega Diaz.

Ortega Diaz, a long­time gov­ern­ment loy­al­ist who has be­come one of Maduro’s most out­spo­ken crit­ics, re­it­er­ated her re­fusal to rec­og­nize that de­ci­sion at a pub­lic ap­pear­ance along­side op­po­si­tion lead­ers Sun­day.

“I am still Venezuela’s chief pros­e­cu­tor,” she said to ap­plause.

The as­sem­bly or­dered her re­placed by om­buds­man Tarek Wil­liam Saab, who was re­cently sanc­tioned by the U.S. for fail­ing to pro­tect pro­test­ers from abuses in his role as Venezuela’s top hu­man-rights of­fi­cial.

Else­where, op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez re­turned to house ar­rest late Satur­day, his wife, Lil­ian Tin­tori, said on her Twit­ter ac­count. Venezue­lan po­lice de­tained Lopez and an­other Maduro op­po­nent, An­to­nio Ledezma, at gun­point ear­lier last week in the af­ter­math of the con­tentious vote for the new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly.

In his Sun­day ad­dress, Maduro de­fended the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly’s right to re­move Ortega Diaz, com­par­ing it to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to fire act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Sally Yates after she publicly ques­tioned his im­mi­gra­tion or­der shortly after tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary.

He also an­nounced that a new “truth com­mis­sion” was be­ing in­stalled Sun­day, set­ting up its of­fices in a his­toric build­ing in Caracas that also houses the Min­istry of For­eign Re­la­tions. The com­mis­sion will have the right to re­quire those it sum­mons to tes­tify, and those who lie can be charged with per­jury, the pres­i­dent said.

Maduro said the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly is con­sid­er­ing cre­at­ing a law against “hate, in­tol­er­ance and fas­cism” that would im­me­di­ately pun­ish those re­spon­si­ble for the cur­rent up­heaval.

Maduro fre­quently refers to op­po­si­tion lead­ers and pro­test­ers as “fas­cists.”

The pres­i­dent sin­gled out Julio Borges, the leader of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly, warn­ing him, “Jus­tice is com­ing for you and the ter­ror­ists you’ve helped ad­vance.”

AP/JUAN CARLOS HERNANDEZ

A man con­fronts a line of Venezue­lan na­tional guards­men Sun­day out­side the Para­macay mil­i­tary base in the city of Va­len­cia near Caracas, where armed as­sailants re­port­edly were re­pelled after a pre-dawn at­tack.

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