Venezuelan military dissidents attempt uprising
Venezuela’s political crisis intensifies following reports of gun battles in Valencia
Anti-government activists and the National Guard clash in Valencia city, Venezuela. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
The political crisis in Venezuela intensified over the weekend when a group of dissident military officers attempted an uprising at a barracks in the South American country’s third-largest city.
Video posted on social media showed what appeared to be gun battles at the Fort Paramacay base in the city of Valencia on Sunday morning. The authorities appeared to bring the situation under control quickly with Diosdado Cabello, one of the strongmen of the ruling Chavista regime, classifying the incident as a “terrorist attack”.
Seven of those involved were reported to have been arrested. There was no immediate confirmation of casualties. Afterwards residents in the capital Caracas reported increased security around Fort Tiuna, the city’s main military base.
The rebels released a video saying they were “in legitimate rebellion” against “the murderous tyranny of Nicolás Maduro”. Venezuela’s president is facing increasing opposition at home and isolation abroad over his installation of a constitutional assembly which has been denounced as an authoritarian power grab.
More than 120 people have died in political violence in the last four months as the opposition has mounted protests against the new body, all of whose 545 members are followers of the late Hugo Chávez who launched Venezuela’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution.
The leader of Sunday’s uprising attempt appeared to be Juan Caguaripano, a captain in the national guard who has been sought by authorities since he backed a wave of protests against Mr Maduro in 2014. In the video he denied his group was mounting a coup and only sought “to re-establish the constitutional order”.
It was not clear if units at the base were involved in the rebellion or if Capt Caguaripano had merely led an assault on it. With a majority of seats in cabinet and heavily implicated in corruption and drug-trafficking, Venezuela’s military has so far shown no sign of abandoning its support for the embattled Mr Maduro.
After being formally installed on Friday, the controversial new assembly moved quickly against one of the president’s critics by sacking the country’s chief prosecutor on Saturday. Formally a regime loyalist, Luisa Ortega Díaz broke with Mr Maduro over his decision to set up the new body.
Ms Ortega refused to acknowledge her removal and released a statement warning it was “just a tiny example of what is coming for everyone who dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government”. Later she denounced the security forces for surrounding her office to prevent her from gaining access to the building.
Ms Ortega was investigating corruption by the Chavista regime in public works contracts. She was building a case against leading government officials over the payment of $30 billion to Brazilian firm Odebrecht for 11 works projects despite none being finished. Odebrecht executives in Brazil have admitted paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Chavista officials.
Also on Saturday regional trade bloc Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely from the organisation over what it classified as “the rupture of the democratic order” in the country. Speaking after the meeting in São Paulo, Argentina’s foreign minister Jorge Faurie said: “In Venezuela there is not democracy and without democracy you cannot be part of Mercosur.”
A defiant Mr Maduro said no matter how hard Brazil’s “coup-mongering oligarchs” and “the squalid ones that govern Argentina” tried they would never succeed in ejecting his country from the bloc. Mercosur does not have a mechanism for expelling members.