Questions surround claims of drone assassination attempt on Venezuela’s Maduro

by WorldTribune Staff, August 5, 2018

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is likely to use what he said was an attempt on his life to purge his socialist government of disloyal officials and further restrict liberties, an analyst said.

Maduro’s government said the president survived an assassination attempt on Aug. 4, claiming explosions heard during a military event that was broadcast on live TV were drone attacks.

Screen grab from video shows security detail shielding President Nicolas Maduro after what was reported by the Venezuelan government as a drone attack assassination attempt.

Three officials who spoke on condition of anonymity say the incident was actually a gas tank explosion inside a nearby apartment building, The Associated Press reported.

David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America told the AP that, while the attack didn’t appear to be staged by Maduro’s government, it prompted embarrassing TV images of Maduro cut off mid-sentence with droves of soldiers running away in fear, making the president appear vulnerable.

According to another report cited by the Washington Post, the incident may have involved the destruction of an out-of-control military drone.

Smilde said Maduro will use the suspected assassination attempt to concentrate power, further restricting liberty while purging the government and armed forces of those he deems disloyal to him.

Maduro has remained in power in oil-rich Venezuela despite an imploding economy and political crisis.

Hundreds of thousands have fled the country due to shortages of basic necessities including food and medicine. The inflation rate could reach one million percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Maduro said some of the “material authors” of the alleged drone attack are now in custody.

He insisted far-right wing factions within Venezuela working in collaboration with conspirators in Colombia and Miami were responsible.

Maduro said he believed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, an outspoken critic of the Venezuelan president, was also responsible.

Maduro added that some of those who financed the attack are in Miami and that he hoped U.S. President Donald Trump is “willing to fight the terrorist groups.”

“This was an attempt to kill me. Today they attempted to assassinate me,” Maduro said.

Military analyst Rocio San Miguel, who is head of the investigative website Control Ciudadano, said that based on what she had gathered from internal sources, she thinks that the incident was “a security mistake,” The Washington Post reported. “A military drone was destroyed by the military because they lost control of it. It started descending and to avoid it hitting the presidential stage, they destroyed it.” She said the explosion of the building was probably a separate incident.

Local journalists identified the site of the explosion as the Residencias Don Eduardo apartment building in central Caracas, and they posted photos on Twitter of smoke billowing from an apartment there, the Post’s report said.

Carlos Julio Rojas, who lives near where the incident took place, said he heard two explosions, and that the walls of his apartment “rumbled.”

“We saw how military men ran away and passed through our streets with rifles in hand, causing people to panic,” Rojas said, according to the Post. Nearby neighbors, he said, told him they had also heard two separate explosions and that they believed one drone was intercepted and hit a nearby building, which is, they said, what caused the smoke that appears on pictures in social media.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said that the incident in Venezuela “could be a lot of things from a pretext set up by the Maduro regime itself, or something else. He’s made accusations accusing the outgoing president of Colombia, what he calls the extreme right wing in Venezuela, that means the vast opposition to his authoritarian role, and he’s blamed unnamed financiers in the United States.”

Bolton added: “These are things he has said before and you have to take them for what they are worth. If the government of Venezuela has hard information that they want to present to us that would show a potential violation of U.S. criminal law, we’ll take a serious look at it. But in the meantime, I think what we really should focus on is the corruption and the oppression of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

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