Venezuela Denounces Rogue Helicopter Incident as TerrorismBy and
Maduro says helicopter crew attacked country’s high court
President called helicopter incident an act of terror
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed a former ally for orchestrating an incident in Caracas on Tuesday evening that involved a police helicopter flying over government institutions and allegedly firing shots and dropping grenades from the air.
Maduro, speaking on state television, said he activated an air defense plan and deployed all military special forces to capture the helicopter crew for what he called an “armed terrorist attack against the country’s institutions.” He blamed ally turned critic Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who previously served as his Interior Minister, for the attack, saying one of the helicopter pilots had worked under him. Images posted on social media show several men in a helicopter with a banner alluding to a constitutional article that justifies an uprising. The whereabouts of the crew are unknown and there was no information on casualties or wounded.
“This is the kind of armed escalation I have been warning about,” Maduro said. “I call on the opposition alliance to denounce this incident.”
The bizarre incident comes amid an escalation of chaos and violence in the OPEC nation as months of protests against Maduro’s administration have led to nearly 80 deaths. In the past 24 hours authorities arrested more than 200 individuals in the city of Maracay west of Caracas after violent looting late Monday and national guardsmen clashed with opposition lawmakers at the National Assembly on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Maduro warned that his followers would go "into combat" to defend the so-called Bolivarian revolution if "Venezuela plunged into chaos and violence."
The protests, fueled by discontent over chronic shortages of food and medicine, and increasing repression by security forces amid record low approval ratings for the socialist government, have intensified as the regime pushes forward with a plan to overhaul the constitution.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas denounced Tuesday’s “terrorist attacks” in a late night address, assuring the events would not derail the president’s plans to call a constituent assembly next month. Villegas added that one pilot had been identified and the men fired 15 gunshots and four dropped four grenades during the fly over near the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry.
Rodriguez Torres and the Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz have both been vocal with their criticism of the constitutional rewrite in what they say is an attempt to alter the legacy of former leader Hugo Chavez who died from cancer in 2013. The government circulated a document in the past few days tying Rodriguez Torres to U.S. intelligence agencies -- a connection the former minister has vehemently denied.
At the same time the helicopter flew over Caracas, the Supreme Court -- stacked with Maduro appointees -- issued a ruling that gives the public defender attributions currently reserved only for the public prosecutor.
The six-year term of the Venezuelan leader, who squeaked out a victory following Chavez’s death over the opposition’s Henrique Capriles, ends in 2019 with presidential elections expected at the end of next year. While the Electoral Council and government officials have said they expect general elections to proceed, the opposition is increasingly skeptical of getting fair and balanced treatment in a democratic process with the constitutional overhaul threatening to further weaken certain checks and balances.
Maduro made clear he won’t step down quietly amid the increasing discontent.
“We would never surrender and what we could not achieve with votes we would do with arms, we would liberate our country with arms.”