- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Former police officer Oscar Pérez piloted a stolen helicopter from which four grenades were dropped on the Venezuela’s supreme court building on Tuesday.
Pérez, whose location is currently unknown, said in an Instagram caption that he and his cohort “are a coalition of military employees, policemen and civilians who are looking for balance and are against this criminal government.”
In addition to dropping grenades on the court, the group also appears to have fired multiple shots at the Interior Ministry and flown a banner over Caracas emblazoned with the words, “350 Freedom,” a reference to clause 350 in the Venezuelan constitution that guarantees the right of the Venezuelan people to oppose an undemocratic government.
President Nicolás Maduro denounced the incident as a “terrorist attack.”
But Maduro’s regime, which has postponed elections and aims to rewrite the constitution, is taking heat not just from thousands of protesters who’ve been in the streets for months, but also more prominent figures, namely state prosecutor Luisa Ortega.
Protests against the Maduro government began in earnest in April after the Supreme Court, widely seen as an extension of the regime, tried to usurp the duties of the National Assembly, a last bastion of the opposition. That decision was mostly reversed, but the opposition has not been moved, even as Maduro digs in his heels and the Organization of American States proves unable to come to a resolution on what to do about Venezuela.
Pérez’s helicopter stunt is significant in that some experts expect the military will take the first steps to oust Maduro. And while Pérez’s faction appears, at least so far, to be tiny, meaning the move was more of a demonstration and less the attempted coup Maduro quickly said it was, it could perhaps represent the first flutterings of discontent within the military. Maduro has maintained that he has complete loyalty in the barracks, even while detaining at least 65 soldiers, including many junior officers.
The former bus driver seemed determined to avoid any contagion.
“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said. It appears no one was injured in Tuesday’s activities, but, Maduro warned, “There could have been dozens of deaths.”
Where there actually have been dozens of deaths has come in the streets, in clashes with Maduro’s security forces: At least 75 people have died in the anti-government protests.
Photo credit: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images