Venezuela braces for blowback as Nicolas Maduro says he survived drone assassination attempt
Posted On July 19, 2020
It was a chance for an embattled leader to project an image of strength as he addressed a military parade.
Nicolas Maduro, the Leftist president of Venezuela, wore a medal and sash to deliver his message in a televised address.
“We are going to bet for the good of our country,” he said. “The hour of the economic recovery has come.”
Seconds later everything changed. TV images showed he and his wife Cilia Flores looking up at the sky and flinching as an explosion apparently rocked the capital Caracas.
The feed was cut as members of the National Guard scrambled for cover. Photographs released later showed the first couple being shrouded by protective shields.
“The biggest change for the ruling coalition may be a heightened sense that Maduro’s leadership may imperil government stability,” he said.
It leaves a battered country bracing for the fallout.
Profile | Nicolás Maduro
For his part, Mr Maduro was quick to reassure his country that all was well. He returned to TV screens later in the evening to defiantly declare himself unaffected by the “assassination” attempt.
“I’m alive and victorious,” he said.
He quickly blamed the far-Right, neighbouring Colombia (whose outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos has suggested Mr Maduro will soon be ousted) and plotters in the US.
“The investigation will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “No matter who falls.”
Both Colombia and the US denied any role while a little known rebel group, the National Movement of Soldiers in Shirts, claimed responsibility.
The government said six people had been detained over the explosions. One of the six had a pending arrest warrant for a 2017 attack on a military base, and a second had been arrested in 2014 for participating in anti-government street protests, according to the interior minister.
Firefighters at the scene told the Associated Press they believed a propane gas tank exploding in an apartment was to blame but witnesses described seeing a drone crash into a nearby building.
At least one security expert told the Washington Post that it may have been a government drone that flew out of control and was destroyed before it could hit the presidential podium.
Whether accident, assassination attempt or even a stunt planned by the government, the episode represents the third time Mr Maduro has suffered embarrassment on live television. A lone attacker launched himself at the podium as he gave his first state of the union address in 2013 and last year he was pelted with eggs during a parade in the northeast of the country.
And the explosion comes after a difficult week for the president. His capital struggled with power cuts that blacked out city blocks and took phones off line, the latest symptom of his country’s spiralling economic problems.
Although he says reforms will begin to take effect later this month, the International Monetary Fund predicts the oil-rich nation’s socialist experiment means inflation will hit one million percent by the end of the year.
Venezuelans turn to herbal remedies as HIV drugs run low
Hundreds of thousands of people are not waiting around to find out who is right. An estimated 5000 people per day are crossing the border to flee hunger and disease.
Brian Fonseca, director of the Jack D Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University, said the attack appeared to be a sign of bubbling tensions – rather than a co-ordinated coup effort – and would prompt a fresh wave of crackdowns.
“I think it does give justification to the regime to further repression,” he said, adding that it may also prompt the president’s inner circle to begin succession planning.
The end result may even be a strengthening of Mr Maduro’s fragile position, according to Geoff Ramsey, Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America.
It gives him the bogeyman he needs to keep allies loyal, he said.
“It’s true that the imagery from yesterday does not cast him in a good light but what matters is his control of the levers of power: the armed forces… where senior officers get perks in exchange for their loyalty, but also the political discourse of anti-imperialism and being able to say he is a president under siege,” said Mr Ramsey.