On Saturday, a drone exploded near a military event in the capital Caracas when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was delivering his speech. The leader and some of the senior officials survived the attack but who is responsible for the assassination attempt is not clear.
“This is the attack with Maduro as a target,” said the country’s Minister of Information Jorge Rodriguez. As many as seven members of the National Guard were injured in the incident. A Venezuelan near the stage admitted having heard two explosions.
“I saw a black flying device with lights about four meters from me; it was a drone. I waved my hand, like saying hi, because I thought it was a toy,” he said. “Then the drone started falling and hit the building – towards the first floor – and exploded and the smoke started coming to the upper floors,” a Venezuelan named Piedro Pena said.
Several pictures on social media channels showed the president’s bodyguards were trying to protect Maduro using bullet-proof shields. Another picture showed a military member suffered bleeding from his head while being carried out by his colleagues.
Maduro thanked God for saving him from the drone political assassination attempt. He blamed Colombia and the U.S. for what he called as “the right-wing conspiration” to kill him.
“I am fine, I am alive, and after this attack, I’m more determined than ever to follow the path of the revolution,” the former bus driver said.
He added that he had been protected by “shields of love.”
Bogota denied such an accusation, saying the claim was “absurd.” Washington also snubbed Maduro’s claim (that the U.S. was involved in the incident), adding that the attack could be “a pretext set up by the regime.”
Following the attack, the Caracas administration announced the arrest of six people and charged them with terrorism and assassination.
Venezuela, once one of the world’s top oil producing countries, has been plagued by one of the worst economic crises in history due to the sharp decline in the global oil price in 2014. OPEC data showed that Venezuela’s oil production fell 29 percent in December 2017 in comparison to the previous year, and it is expected that the country’s oil output will continue to drop in the coming years.
The International Monetary fund (IMF) forecasted the inflation rate would likely hit 1 million percent this year. The crisis has triggered mass protests for the past few years.
Many Venezuelans Cast Doubt Over the Government’s Version of the Drone Attack
Maduro and his ministers slammed Colombia, the U.S. and Venezuelan opposition groups for staging the assassination attempt, but many Venezuelans are casting their doubt over the government’s claims.
Firefighters argued that the explosion came from a gas tank in a nearby apartment. Adding to the confusion a new and mysterious rebel group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-Shirts” claimed to be responsible for the assassination attempt.
“It is contrary to military honor to keep in government those who not only have forgotten the Constitution but who have also made public office an obscene way to get rich,” the group’s statement said, which was passed to US-based opposition journalist Patricia Poleo, who read it on her YouTube channel.
“If the purpose of a government is to achieve the greatest amount of happiness possible, we cannot tolerate that the population is suffering from hunger, that the sick do not have medicine, that the currency has no value, or that the education system neither educates or teaches, only indoctrinating communism,” the group added in its statement.
The group cited the reasons for the attack were the inadequate role of the government in handling the prolonged crisis that left millions of Venezuelans living in poverty.
Will the Attack Escalate Repression?
The attack against the government and the military, which was broadcast live, made the army look bad and vulnerable, as stated by former general Hebert Garcia Plaza who is a Maduro government critic.
Many fear that Maduro will use the drone attack to strengthen repression against those who oppose the government, regardless of whether the attack was staged or not.
“Staged or not, the end result will be the same. Maduro is certain to use this to justify further repression of the opposition, and to rally his ruling circle around a perceived enemy threat,” explained Geoff Ramsey, the assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America.