VALENCIA/CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug 6 (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities quelled an attack on a military base near the city of Valencia by soldiers and armed civilians on Sunday, killing two of them in a dramatic escalation of unrest in the protest-convulsed South American nation.
The pre-dawn raid coincided with a video circulated on social media showing more than a dozen men in military uniform announcing an uprising to restore constitutional order following the creation of a pro-government legislative superbody on Friday, condemned internationally as a power grab by President Nicolas Maduro.
The assault highlighted the growing volatility of the OPEC member state after four months of sustained anti-government protests in which some 120 people have been killed. The opposition has denounced Maduro for dragging Venezuela toward dictatorship and has appealed to the military for help. (http://tmsnrt.rs/2ujuylf)
In his weekly televised show, the unpopular socialist leader condemned the attackers as “mercenaries”. He said around 20 armed men had entered the Fort of Paramacay near Valencia, about two hours west of capital Caracas, before dawn, surprising guards and making straight for the weapons cache.
Two of the attackers were killed in a firefight with soldiers, Maduro said. Socialist party officials said eight others were arrested, including at least three from the military, while the remainder made off with weapons.
“Those who escaped are being actively searched for, and we are going to capture them,” Maduro said.
In Valencia, hundreds took to the streets to support what at first appeared to be a small military uprising, said resident Carolina Herrera, who like other witnesses reported shots through the night. But hooded protesters were dispelled with tear gas, and the rest of the nation of 30 million people appeared mostly calm.
Last week, Venezuela elected a 545-member legislative superbody that Maduro calls Venezuela’s only hope for restoring peace. The opposition calls it a power play aimed at keeping the president in office despite approval ratings battered by a deep recession, high inflation and shortages of food and medicine.
‘DELIRIOUS MINDS IN MIAMI’
The crisis has turned attention to the role of the military, with some ordinary soldiers increasingly weary of the popular backlash against their role in suppressing protests.
Sunday’s attack was apparently led by Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain. Authorities published photos purporting to show seven arrested men, some of them with bruises on their faces.
In the video circulating Sunday, a man who identified himself as Caguaripano and flanked by men in military uniforms, called for the immediate formation of a transition government.
“This is not a coup d’etat,” added Caguaripano, who was removed from the National Guard in 2014, according to a document seen by Reuters.
“This is a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order. But more than that, it is to save the country from total destruction.”
ARMED FORCES IN SPOTLIGHT
Discontent is higher among lower-tier officials, who are often sent to control rowdy protests and are paid just a few dozen U.S. dollars a month.
“You can’t ask civil society and the military to suffer more hunger, crime, and corruption perpetrated by this repressive government,” said opposition lawmaker Carlos Michelangeli.
Full article: Venezuela quells attack on military base, two killed (Reuters)