Venezuela: 'Rogue' police helicopter drops grenades on government buildings

A stolen police helicopter dropped grenades on government buildings in Caracas, including the Supreme Court, as the crisis in Venezuela deepened overnight.

But some members of the opposition to the government of President Nicolas Maduro claim that the attack was staged by the government to justify a crackdown on protesters, who have filled the streets of Venezuela's cities the last three months, demonstrating against the lack of food and medicine in the country.

NBC News:

President Nicolas Maduro blamed the air assault on a rogue police pilot named Oscar Perez, who allegedly escaped the scene and was being hunted by authorities. No one was injured.

"Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country," Maduro said, according to The Associated Press. "They could have caused dozens of deaths."

However, some of Maduro's opponents claimed the episode might have been staged to justify the government's repression of its critics. Opponents accuse the president of being a dictator and of pushing through various measures to consolidate power into his own hands.

It was impossible to immediately verify either side's claims surrounding Tuesday's chaotic events.

The government said the helicopter fired 15 shots against the Interior Ministry headquarters during a reception celebrating national journalist's day, the AP reported.

According to this account, the chopper then flew to the pro-government Supreme Court and fired four grenades.

Inside the court, magistrates were issuing a number of rulings further hemming in Venezuela's opposition.

Around the same time of the attack, a man identified as Oscar Perez, the police pilot, posted several videos to his Instagram account saying he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian officials opposed to the "criminal" government.

Flanked by four people wearing camouflage jackets, helmets, ski masks and holding what appeared to be assault rifles, he said "this fight is ... against the vile government. Against tyranny," according to a Reuters translation.

Pictures of a blue police helicopter carrying an anti-government banner also appeared on social media.

Local media also linked Perez to 2015 action film "Suspended Death" which he co-produced and starred in as an intelligence agent rescuing a kidnapped businessman, Reuters reported.

The incident capped a chaotic 24 hours for Venezuela, with widespread looting in the coastal city of Maracay on Monday night and punch-ups between national guardsmen and opposition lawmakers who were trying to enter the National Assembly earlier Tuesday.

The protests demonstrate Maduro's unpopularity but are hardly a threat to his control.  The army is still solidly behind him despite claims by the "rebels."  And the police don't have the firepower to go up against the army.  Maduro purged the officer corps in the army over the last few years, leaving only die-hard loyalists in positions of power.  It is unlikely that senior officers would join an organized revolt against the government.

But the helicopter incident, despite the Rambo-like efforts of policeman-turned-actor Oscar Lopez, highlights the seriousness of Maduro's position.  Such incidents have been known to inspire other acts of rebellion in Latin America.  With the people starving to death and hospitals out of medicine, more serious threats involving junior officers and their troops may be on the horizon.

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