CARACAS – Two of the roughly 20 people who attacked an army unit in the north-central Venezuelan city of Valencia early Sunday were killed, while another was wounded and 10 were detained, President Nicolas Maduro said on state television.
Nine of the assailants arrested at the scene are civilians and the tenth is a “deserter lieutenant,” the leftist head of state said during the latest broadcast of “Sundays with Maduro.”
The unnamed lieutenant in custody was “actively” cooperating with authorities at the headquarters of the 41st Armored Brigade in Fort Paramacay, Maduro said, hailing the Bolivian National Armed Forces (FANB) for their quick and effective response to the “terrorist attack.”
Another army deserter was among a number of attackers who managed to flee, the president said.
An army captain said in a video released on Sunday that he was leading an uprising against Maduro’s administration “to restore the constitutional order.”
The video shows about 20 armed men in military uniforms accompanying a spokesman identifying himself as Capt. Juan Caguaripano and claiming to be the “commander of Operation David Carabobo.”
The purported army captain – sources told EFE that Caguaripano has not been an active military officer since 2014 – goes on to say that he was “in rebellion” against “Nicolas Maduro’s murderous tyranny,” adding that the action was not “a coup d’etat.”
The rebellion is backed by other officers, active troops and reserves from “all the components” of the armed forces, as well as police, all “courageous men and women who love freedom” and are united “more than ever with the people of Venezuela,” Caguaripano said.
Dozens of residents of the area around Fort Paramacay took to the streets to express support for the uprising.
An opposition activist identified as Ramon Rivas was fatally shot during that demonstration, according to his colleagues, who demanded an investigation.
Venezuela’s foreign minister sought to link the mutiny to the United States.
“Behind these paramilitary and propagandistic operations we find the black hand of imperialism,” Jorge Arreaza wrote on Twitter, in line with earlier comments by Maj. Gen. Jesus Suarez Chourio, commander of Venezuela’s militarized national police.
The FANB, meanwhile, accused the political opposition of complicity with the actions of “civilian criminals wearing military uniforms.”
But the head of the opposition-controlled congress, Julio Borges, suggested that the Maduro government was offering a distorted account of the events at Fort Paramacay.
“We want to know the truth. Don’t come to us with a fable, don’t come to us with a witch-hunt, don’t come pointing the finger at those of us who simply want the survival of democracy in Venezuela,” the National Assembly speaker said during a forum in Caracas.
Sunday’s episode should move the government to “profound reflection,” he said, while deputy congressional leader Freddy Guevara said the violence showed that unhappiness with Maduro’s rule had “reached the barracks.”
The uprising came a week after an election was held for the National Constituent Assembly, a body created by Maduro to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
Maduro contends that the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis, but the president’s opponents say it is merely a cynical ploy to buy time until elections scheduled for October 2018.
On Saturday, the constitutional assembly voted in its opening session to remove the attorney general from office and replace her with the national ombudsman.
Luisa Ortega Diaz, who in recent months had been outspoken in her criticism of Maduro and the Supreme Court, was replaced by Tarek William Saab, who became the first official to be appointed by the new plenipotentiary body, which is tasked with revising the nation’s 1998 constitution.
Ortega Diaz joined the congressional leadership and other Maduro critics for Sunday’s “Defense of the Constitution” event in the capital, where she denounced the Constituent Assembly as “illegitimate.”
“Based on an order that was given by the executive, they proceeded to remove the attorney general in an illegitimate manner, (but) I do not recognize that removal, I continue to be the attorney general of this country,” she told reporters.
Ortega Diaz, a former ally of Maduro’s, turned against her boss earlier this year when the Supreme Court assumed the remaining powers of the National Assembly, having previously stripped the legislature of its budgetary authority.
The high court said the National Assembly was in contempt for seating lawmakers accused of electoral fraud in a bid to create a super-majority.
Although that ruling was later reversed, Ortega Diaz has continued to speak out against Maduro, accusing him of using the Constituent Assembly to install a “totalitarian system.”
On Friday, Maduro accused Ortega Diaz’s office of complicity with an “armed insurgency” in Venezuela, which has been racked by violent anti-government protests since April 1 that have left 122 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and 5,000 arrested.
Llama terroristas a sus propios Oficiales y soldados. No dice que le vaciaron el parque de armas y que Caguaripano se escapó en sus narices. https://t.co/M2RvV8SLC5