A police helicopter launched grenades at Venezuela’s supreme court building on Tuesday evening following months of protests against the country’s president, Maduro.
“Terrorists” had lobbed two grenades that failed to detonate. Some reports put the number of grenades higher. Local media suggested a former police intelligence officer had carried out the attack.
Videos circulated on social media showed a man piloting the helicopter while holding a banner that read “Liberty. Article 350”, in reference to the part of the Venezuelan constitution that allows citizens to declare themselves in civil disobedience in front of “any regime that runs counter to democratic guarantees or undermines human rights”.
The incident took place just hours after Maduro warned that he and his supporters would be willing to take up arms if his government was toppled by “undemocratic forces”.
The man who piloted the helicopter is Oscar Pérez, a former captain in the CICPC, Venezuela’s intelligence and investigative body. In a video released on social media, Pérez speaks directly to a camera flanked by four masked men wielding what appear to be assault rifles.
“Venezuelans, dear brothers, we talk to you on behalf of the state. We are a coalition of military, police and civilians in search of an equilibrium and against this transitory, criminal government,”Pérez said. “We have two choices: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government.”
Perez claims to have no political affiliation. In a second video, he pointed to a purple ribbon tied around his left arm and says his allegiance is to “the truth and to Christ” According to his Instagram profile, Perez is a crime units investigator, a pilot and a K9 instructor.
Maduro added: “I demand that the MUD [opposition coalition] condemns this eminently coup-mongering attack … It could have caused a tragedy with several dozen dead and injured.”
Later, information minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the interior ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people. It then flew a short distance to the government-stacked supreme court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of “Colombian origin”, two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.
Earlier on Tuesday, at a rally to promote a 30 July vote for a constituent assembly, Maduro said he would fight to defend the “Bolivarian revolution” of his predecessor Hugo Chávez.
“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what we failed to achieve with votes, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons.”
His comments, which were broadcast live to the country, came after one of the worst outbreaks of looting in three months of deadly protests. Some 68 businesses, including supermarkets, liquor stores, bakeries and food shops were ransacked in a wave of lawlessness that began Monday night in the city of Maracay, 100km west of Caracas, and continued well into Tuesday afternoon.
Videos circulating on social media showed at least a dozen supermarkets being ransacked by looters. The headquarters of the governing party, the PSUV, was also reportedly burnt.
“It is the clearest acknowledgment that Venezuela lives a dictatorship that intends to impose itself – against the democratic spirit – through a constituent assembly that will only deepen the social, political and humanitarian crisis that affects the country.”