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Police Officers in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Supreme Court

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image The Venezuelan authorities inspected the area around the Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday after a police faction flew a helicopter over the court headquarters, dropping grenades and firing into the building, according to government officials.

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 economic crises.

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.

Photo

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.

 

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