A rogue faction within Venezuela’s police force attacked the country’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, with helicopters dropping grenades, plunging the country into a new phase of political maelstrom amid brewing popular discontent and, at times, violent demonstrations against the government.
Though the country was reeling from street clashes between protesters and government forces over the past months as debilitating food shortage keeps Venezuela on edge, an attack by police force was unexpected, appeared to be beyond pale.
Helicopter’s involvement in Wednesday’s unprecedented attack resembled scenes from an unsuccessful attempt by a small faction within the Turkish military last summer when some troops commandeered fighter jets, helicopters, and tanks to topple the government.
But the Turkish episode was different in scale and the casualties it created. At least 249 people died, while nearly 2,000 wounded in the bloody putsch that unleashed a calamity on the Turkish bureaucracy, its military, and society. Nobody knows whether there were any casualties or reports of killings in Venezuela’s small uprising.
Turkey still reels from an ongoing post-coup crackdown on government opponents, a sweeping purge that has left civil service and academia in disarray, and dangerous levels of social division. What future awaits conflict-ridden Venezuela, which has one of the world’s largest proven oil reserves and which now suffers food shortages, is hard to tell.
In a video released on Youtube, Oscar Perez assumed the responsibility for the police operation, claiming to have widespread support across government departments, police, the army and civil service. But the group never came close to remove the government, apparently lacked the support it needed for its actions.
“We are nationalists, patriots, and institutionalists,” Mr. Perez 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,” The New York Times quoted him as saying.
— Mete Sohtaoğlu (@metesohtaoglu) June 28, 2017
President Nicholas Maduro denounced the act of violence in a televised speech, portrayed it as a “coup plot.” He mobilized the country’s security forces to act against the assailants.
Venezuela has been plagued by a flagging economy, a surge in crime that crippled social life in Caracas, and endless political tumult fueled by creeping authoritarianism under Mr. Maduro’s leadership. The latest attack against government institutions would create a political scenario similar to Turkey, giving the president unprecedented powers to muzzle any dissent, a legitimate cause to crack down on the opposition with further impunity by capitalizing on the public mood.
The attackers who reportedly stole the helicopter remain at large. The president vowed to capture them “sooner or later.”
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