Venezue­lan troops quash at­tack on army base by anti-Maduro group

Res­i­dents heard re­peated gun­fire

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY FABI­OLA SANCHEZ AND CHRIS­TINE ARMARIO

CARACAS, VENEZUELA | Mil­i­tary troops quickly put down an at­tack at an army base in Venezuela on Sun­day, clash­ing with a group that said it was out to “reestab­lish the con­sti­tu­tional or­der” but was dis­missed by of­fi­cials as a band of civil­ians work­ing with a de­serted lieu­tenant and a for­mer of­fi­cer.

The in­ci­dent hap­pened dur­ing the early hours at the Para­macay base in the cen­tral city of Va­len­cia. Res­i­dents who live nearby said they heard re­peated rounds of gun­fire start­ing around 4:30 a.m.

Dozens of lo­cals gath­ered out­side the base chant­ing, “Free­dom!” and troops dis­persed them with tear gas.

The clashes sparked just as a video show­ing more than a dozen men dressed in mil­i­tary fa­tigues, some car­ry­ing ri­fles, be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing widely on so­cial me­dia.

In the record­ing, a man who iden­ti­fied him­self as Capt. Juan Caguar­i­pano said the men were mem­bers of the mil­i­tary who op­pose the gov­ern­ment of em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and called on other units to de­clare them­selves in open re­bel­lion.

“This is not a coup d’etat,” he said. “This is a civic and mil­i­tary ac­tion to re-es­tab­lish the con­sti­tu­tional or­der.”

De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez char­ac­ter­ized the at­tack­ers as a “para­mil­i­tary” ex­pe­di­tion car­ried out by civil­ians dressed in uni­forms. He did not name any of the par­tic­i­pants but said they in­cluded a lieu­tenant who had aban­doned his post and that a for­mer of­fi­cer dis­missed three years ago after be­ing charged with re­bel­lion and be­tray­ing the home­land had recorded the video.

In 2014, Capt. 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 dis­con­tent within the ranks.

He re­turned to Venezuela to lead Sun­day’s up­ris­ing, said Giomar Flores, a muti­nous naval of­fi­cer who said he is a spokesman for the group from Bo­gota, Colom­bia.

Mr. Padrino Lopez al­leged the men were re­cruited by “right-wing ex­trem­ists” work­ing with un­spec­i­fied for­eign gov­ern­ments. He said some of them man­aged to steal some weapons but the at­tack was quickly sup­pressed. At least seven peo­ple were de­tained and ex­pected to be put be­fore mil­i­tary tri­bunals.

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

For four months Venezuela has been in the throes of po­lit­i­cal up­heaval that has left at least 120 peo­ple dead.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have called on the mil­i­tary, which his­tor­i­cally has served as an ar­biter of po­lit­i­cal dis­putes, to break with Mr. Maduro over what it con­sid­ers vi­o­la­tions of the con­sti­tu­tion.

But the pres­i­dent is be­lieved to still have the in­sti­tu­tion’s sup­port. He and his pre­de­ces­sor, the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, worked dili­gently to as­sure their al­le­giance.

Like Sun­day’s up­ris­ing, most man­i­fes­ta­tions of dis­sent among the 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 In­ter-Amer­i­can Di­a­logue, said re­cently.

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

Ms. Ortega Diaz, a long­time gov­ern­ment loy­al­ist who has be­come one of Mr. Maduro’s most out­spo­ken crit­ics, re­it­er­ated her re­fusal to rec­og­nize the de­ci­sion.

“I am still Venezuela’s chief pros­e­cu­tor,” she said Sun­day in a pub­lic ap­pear­ance with lead­ers of the op­po­si­tion.

The as­sem­bly swore in as her re­place­ment Om­buds­man Tarek Wil­liam Saab, who re­cently was sanc­tioned by Wash­ing­ton for fail­ing to pro­tect pro­test­ers from abuses in his role as the na­tion’s top hu­man rights of­fi­cial.

Mean­while, jailed op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez was re­turned home to serve un­der house ar­rest his 13-year sen­tence for in­cit­ing vi­o­lence at protests, days after be­ing hauled back to prison in the mid­dle of the night in a move that drew in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A man ar­gues with a lineup of Venezue­lan Bo­li­var­ian Na­tional Guards of­fi­cers. An of­fi­cial said the mil­i­tary squashed a “ter­ror­ist” at­tack at the base shortly after a small group of men dressed in mil­i­tary fa­tigues re­leased a video declar­ing them­selves in re­bel­lion.

Venezue­lan Bo­li­var­ian Na­tional Guard of­fi­cers fire tear gas to­ward a res­i­dent who tried to walk to the mil­i­tary base Para­macay. Dozens of lo­cals were chant­ing “free­dom!”

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