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Venezuelan President Maduro Unharmed After Apparent Attack

At least one explosion rocked a military event where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was giving a speech on Saturday and the government said it was a failed assassination attempt involving drones carrying explosives
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores attend a military event in Caracas on August 4.Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores attend a military event in Caracas on August 4.
Maduro is overseeing Venezuela’s deepest economic crisis in recent memory. The increasingly isolated OPEC nation has seen hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flee to neighboring countries to escape the hardship

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro escaped unharmed in an attack by explosive-laden drones that wounded officers and sent soldiers fleeing during a military parade in Caracas.

The incident broadcast live on state television on Saturday occurred as Maduro spoke, flanked by his wife and defense minister. An explosion was heard and the 55-year-old leader was led off stage. Military personnel broke ranks and ran. Then, the broadcast abruptly ended. Photographs from the scene showed at least one soldier with blood pouring down his face.

“They tried to assassinate me today,” Maduro said in a later speech, blaming the attack on right-wing factions. He said a flying object exploded in front of him, and seconds later he felt another blast to his right, reported Bloomberg.

“That drone was coming for me but there was a shield of love,” Maduro said.

While the government said the incident was terrorism, the AP reported that firefighters at the scene said one explosion was an accident caused by an exploding gas tank.

Whatever the blast’s source, the incident demonstrates the feverish tension in a once-prosperous nation facing crushing hyperinflation and hunger. Maduro, the successor to the late Hugo Chavez, a charismatic socialist, has led the formerly wealthy petrostate into a limbo of corruption and international sanctions.

In 2017, Maduro survived months of furious and deadly protests, but opposition parties have been unable to topple him in the streets or at the ballot box. His power is increasingly dependent on the armed forces, which have been taking an ever-more-prominent role in the nation’s economy and institutions.

Rumors of plots against the leader are constant, and the government often says it has uncovered threats. Earlier this year, a conspiracy to remove Maduro from power was discovered: in mid-May, several dozen servicemen and a couple of civilians were secretly arrested and imprisoned by a military court. In January, a renegade cop, who took up arms against the ruling socialist government and hijacked a helicopter, was killed in a raid by security forces.

On Saturday, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on state television that at least seven military officers were injured after several drones detonated near the stage. He did not provide additional details.

“We have proof that this was an assassination attempt,” he said. “They’ve failed.”

Maduro said in a national address Saturday evening that some involved in the attack had already been captured. He declined to give further detail on their identities, but said he was confident Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had participated in the attempt. He added that initial reports showed that the group’s financiers lived in Florida.

“Here I am on my feet, alive and victorious,” Maduro said from the presidential palace. “The investigation is already advancing. We have cleared the danger in record time.”

Efforts to reach officials at the Colombian embassy and consulates were unsuccessful late Saturday.

  Scant Facts

The government’s account could not be independently verified. The AP reported that firefighters at scene of the explosion disputed the government’s version of events, and that smoke was pouring from a nearby building. Many residents cook with gas because electricity service has become unreliable.

But other witnesses described a “missile-like” detonation over central Caracas. One resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of retributions, told Bloomberg News that a floating device exploded in the Santa Rosalia neighborhood where the president was speaking, setting a residential building ablaze and injuring multiple civilians.

A group calling itself Soldados de Franela—T-Shirt Soldiers—claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The post said the group had demonstrated Maduro’s vulnerability, and that success was a matter of time. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified, and the group had been previously unknown.

“It’s a shame that at this hour, public opinion is doubting the official version, be it true or not,” said analyst Felix Seijas, a director at the polling firm Delphos. “It’s the outcome of years of control over the free media, censorship and multiple false government alerts on assassination attempts.”

  Chavez’s Protege

Maduro has been a longtime supporter of the socialist experiment known as Chavismo. He met Chavez in 1993 while working for the late president’s release after he was imprisoned following a failed coup attempt. He was a key figure in Chavez’s life after prison, serving as a bodyguard and then during his government as president of congress, foreign minister and vice president. He was elected president after Chavez died in 2013.

Now Maduro, reelected in a May election, is overseeing Venezuela’s deepest economic crisis in recent memory. The increasingly isolated OPEC nation has seen hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flee to neighboring countries to escape the hardship, while the political opposition faced crackdown.

On Saturday, just before cameras panned away from him, Maduro said that “the hour of the economic recovery has come.”

Dmitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst, said Saturday’s attack was evidence of Maduro’s tenuous grip on power. “Maduro is in an extremely vulnerable phase,” he said. “And in terms of security, this violence and real coup attempts show instability is more likely to come than stability.”

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