Maduro Claims Victory After ‘Attack’ at Army Base Kills TwoDaniel Cancel and Jose Orozco
Venezuela’s president says ‘mercenaries’ have been detained
New constituent assembly was sworn in, ousted chief prosecutor
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said a “terrorist attack” by “mercenaries” early Sunday at a military base in the central city of Valencia had been defeated and seven people detained.
Soldiers responded immediately to the alleged attack, injuring one attacker and killing two out of a group of 20 during three hours of combat, Maduro said on state television. He said he directed the response as commander in chief. Of the 10 attackers that didn’t get away, only one, a discharged lieutenant, had any military ties, Maduro said.
“I can’t describe it any other way. It’s a terrorist attack against the national armed forces,” Maduro said on his Sunday TV program. “The armed forces reacted united and with morale and conviction.”
The incident comes days after Maduro, despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, installed his constituent assembly charged with rewriting the constitution in the nation with the world’s biggest oil reserves. The vote to elect the assembly was boycotted by the opposition, which controls the elected legislature, and marred by accusations of fraud. The assembly on Saturday removed the chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, a critic of Maduro’s regime, and vowed to rule for a maximum of two years.
“There’s absolute calm in the other military bases,” Diosdado Cabello, a long-time government official and lawmaker who’s currently one of the highest-ranking socialist party members, said on his Twitter account.
An opposition activist, Ramon Rivas, was killed in protests in Valencia, the city of the alleged attack, lawmaker Richard Blanco wrote on Twitter.
The opposition coalition said that Maduro’s constituent assembly, which seeks to overhaul the constitution, contributed to the violence at the military base.
“We are in time to avoid that this already sufficiently bloody conflict, whose dictatorial repression has left more than 120 murdered, should not become an armed conflict among Venezuelans,” the opposition said.
While Bloomberg News couldn’t independently confirm the incident, videos circulated on social media taken from nearby apartment buildings showed armored cars driving near the entrance of the base as smoke lifted in the distance, with sounds of possible gunshots. A separate video showed a group of soldiers led by a captain identified as Juan Carlos Caguaripano, declaring themselves in rebellion.
The captured former lieutenant is cooperating with authorities, as are the detained civilians, whom Maduro says were paid to join the subversive “adventure.” The escaped attackers fled with weapons, supported by a lieutenant who has been identified and is being sought, Maduro said.
Analysts questioned details of Sunday’s incident because it resembled another “attack” on the government from dissident army personnel in June. Rocio San Miguel, who studies the military in Venezuela, said in posts to 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 Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino provided details of the incident.
The military subsequently issued a statement, citing Padrino, that said the detained attackers “confessed” they were contracted by far-right opposition activists working with foreign governments. The military remains “monolithically united” in its “unconditional” support for Maduro, according to its statement.
The military plays a prominent role in Venezuela. Former President Hugo Chavez, who himself led a coup attempt in 1992, created what he called a “civilian-military union” to defend his socialist revolution and to carry out tasks such as food distribution. Padrino has repeatedly said the military supports Maduro.
In late June, the government denounced what it termed an “attack” by rogue police officials who flew a helicopter over Caracas, allegedly dropping grenades and firing guns from the air. The officers, who left the helicopter abandoned outside the capital, weren’t captured even though the main pilot showed up weeks later at an opposition rally.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez returned to house arrest late on Saturday, his wife, Lilian Tintori, said on her Twitter account. Venezuelan police detained Lopez and another Maduro opponent, Antonio Ledezma, at gunpoint earlier in the week in the aftermath of the contentious vote for the new constituent assembly.
— With assistance by Fabiola Zerpa, and Walter Brandimarte