On 6/28/2017 4:18 AM, jat wrote:
The full story
Police Officers in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Supreme Court
By ERNESTO LONDOÑO and NICHOLAS CASEY JUNE 27, 2017
A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme
Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter,
government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government
personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and
A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter
swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.
Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man
identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men in
uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he
represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who
opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”
“We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said.
“This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against
the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is
against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.”
It was not clear if the assault resulted in any casualties or where the
attackers were on Tuesday night. Despite Mr. Pérez’s claims, it could
not be determined how much support, if any, the attackers had. In any
case, they did not come close to overthrowing the government.
In pictures of the helicopter attack that circulated online, a man who
looks like Mr. Pérez appeared to be piloting the aircraft as a second
man, in a balaclava, held a sign that said, “Art. 350, Libertad.”
Experts said it was a reference to Article 350 of the Venezuelan
Constitution, which encourages people to “disown any regime, legislation
or authority that runs counter to democratic principles and guarantees,
or that undermines human rights.”
Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of the National Assembly said
they were being besieged by armed government supporters.
Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s minister of communications and
information, said on national television that President Nicolás Maduro
had been briefed on “an act of violence” launched from a helicopter that
belongs to a law enforcement agency.
Mr. Villegas characterized the event as an “uprising against the
republic, the Constitution.”
Mr. Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part
of a “coup plot.”
He said the assailants had launched grenades, including one that did not
explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex.
The gunmen fired from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the
building, he said.
Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, said the attack was part of a
“coup plot” and took place during a “social event.” Credit Reuters
“They could have left several dozen deaths,” Mr. Maduro said.
The president added that he had “activated the entire national armed
forces to defend people’s right to serenity.”
Mr. Maduro said “sooner or later, we will capture the helicopter and
those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the
assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft.
Adding to the mystery around Mr. Pérez is a 2015 Venezuelan film called
“Muerte Suspendida,” or “Suspended Death,” in which he plays a police
officer and is listed as a producer.
The trailer tells the story of a kidnapping in which a gang armed with
automatic rifles and rocket launchers captures a wealthy man at a gas
station. The family pleads for the help of the police, who mount an
ambitious rescue. Mr. Pérez appears at the end of the trailer,
apparently part of the rescue team, emerging from water in scuba gear.
“A story based on true events,” the trailer’s opening says.
Venezuela has been shaken for weeks by large protests against the
government, some of which have turned violent. It has resorted to
increasingly heavy-handed tactics, including torture, to beat back
demonstrations, according to accounts by detained demonstrators and
human rights activists. More than 70 people have died.
The Supreme Court, the target of Tuesday’s attack, has become a focus
for the rallies, chiefly because its bench is stacked with allies of the
president who are seen as doing his bidding.
On Tuesday, the court appeared to be chipping away at the power of the
attorney general’s office, transferring many of its investigative
abilities to Tarek Saab, a high-ranking official in Mr. Maduro’s party.
The move was seen at curbing the authority of Luisa Ortega, the attorney
general, who has become famous during protests for openly opposing the
president, the highest-ranking official to do so.
The protests themselves were set off by another ruling by the court that
essentially dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly in
March and transferred lawmaking power to the justices themselves. Mr.
Maduro eventually ordered the court to reverse much of its ruling after
an outcry both outside and within Venezuela, including a public rebuke
by Ms. Ortega.
Attempted coups have shaken Venezuelan politics in recent decades. Hugo
Chávez, who later became the country’s president, made a failed attempt
to seize power by force in 1992 when he was a lieutenant colonel in the
army. The uprising was crushed by the military, and Mr. Chávez was jailed.
In 2002, a few years after Mr. Chávez was elected president, senior
military officers who opposed the new socialist government’s policies
tried to overthrow Mr. Chávez.
But few in Venezuela saw Tuesday’s attack as having any chances of
immediately succeeding in its stated goals.
But these are anxious times for the country. For more than two years,
Venezuelans have been reeling from the nation’s worst economic crisis in
generations. The price of oil, which long bolstered the economy and paid
for Mr. Chávez’s social programs, has plummeted. Inflation is at record
levels, and supermarket shelves are empty.
Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on June 28, 2017, on Page A9
of the New York edition with the headline: Rogue Police in Helicopter
Attack Venezuela Supreme Court.