Venezuela president survives ‘drone assassination attempt’
Maduro claims US link to blast; national security adviser John Bolton denies US role
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has escaped a reported assassination attempt involving drones carrying explosives while he was giving a speech on Saturday.
Mr Maduro said “everything points” to a right-wing plot that initial investigation suggested was linked to Colombia and Florida in the US, where many Venezuelan exiles live.
Several perpetrators were caught, he said, without elaborating.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said drones loaded with explosives detonated close to the military event in downtown Caracas. A Venezuelan who was visiting family nearby told Reuters she heard two explosions.
Mr Maduro, a leftist who replaced Hugo Chavez after the former president’s death in 2013, was unharmed but Mr Rodriguez said seven National Guard soldiers were injured.
“This was an assassination attempt, they tried to assassinate me,” Mr Maduro said in a later televised address.
A little-known group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts” claimed responsibility for the attack. In a series of posts on social media, the group said it had planned to fly two drones but that snipers shot them down.
“We demonstrated that they are vulnerable. We didn’t have success today, but it’s just a question of time,” said the group, which says it was founded in 2014 to bring together all of Venezuela’s “groups of resistance.”
Mr Maduro won a new six-year term in May, but his main rivals disavowed the election and alleged massive irregularities.
Severe economic crisis
Venezuela is suffering under the fifth year of a severe economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration.
Mr Maduro named Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos as being behind the attack, but gave no evidence to back that up.
“The name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack . . . the initial investigations point to Bogota,” Mr Maduro said.
A Colombian government source said the allegation was “absurd” and that Mr Santos was celebrating his granddaughter’s baptism on Saturday. “He is not thinking of anything else, least of all bringing down foreign governments,” the source said.
During the incident, Mr Maduro was speaking about Venezuela’s economy in an address when audio of the live television coverage was suddenly cut off.
Mr Maduro and others on the podium looked up startled and the cameras panned to soldiers who had been lined up in formation in the street. Scores of them ran in panic away from one area.
Photographs on social media appeared to show bodyguards shielding Mr Maduro with black bulletproof panels. A photograph also showed an injured military official clutching his bloody head and being held up by colleagues.
Opec member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.
The self-described “son” of Chavez, former bus driver Mr Maduro says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil. Opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, saying he has destroyed a once-wealthy economy and ruthlessly crushed dissent.
Mr Maduro said initial investigations indicated that “several of those intellectually responsible and the financiers of this attack live in the United States, in the state of Florida.” He called on US president Donald Trump to “fight these terrorist groups”.
A senior White House official on Sunday denied the United States was behind the drone blast.
“I can say unequivocally there is no US government involvement in this at all,” said John Bolton, national security adviser to the White House, told Fox News Sunday in an interview.
Mr Bolton claimed the Maduro government itself could be behind the explosion, citing widespread corruption and oppression in Venezuela.
“It could be a lot of things from a pretext set up by the Maduro regime itself to something else,” Mr Bolton said, adding there were no Americans injured in the blast.
“If the government of Venezuela has hard information that they want to present to us that would show a potential violation of US criminal law, we will take a serious look at it,” he added.
Mr Maduro often blames the United States, which has imposed sanctions against officials in his government, of “conspiracy” and blamed US politicians of fomenting plans to topple him to end nearly two decades of socialism in Venezuela.
A little known group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts” claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack.
Venezuela is suffering under the fifth year of a severe economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition and hyperinflation and caused tens of thousands of people to flee across the border into Colombia and Brazil. – Reuters