Venezuelan groups fear crackdown after alleged Maduro assassination attempt

The Venezuelan government will use last weekend’s explosions at a military parade attended by President Nicolás Maduro and several high-ranking Venezuelan officials to justify further crackdowns on civil and individual liberties in the crisis-stricken country, local human rights groups told WikiTribune

Gonzalo Himiob, director of human rights NGO Foro Penal, said the government is violating the right to the presumption of innocence and to due process of the six people arrested on August 5.

The Venezuelan administration is accusing them of being behind what it says was an attempt on Maduro’s life using explosive-laden drones while the president was giving a speech at the 81st anniversary of Venezuela’s National Guard in Caracas. Authorities have described the detainees as “terrorists and assassins” (AP).

“The government is not carrying out an objective and impartial investigation based on the facts,” Himiob told WikiTribune. “It’s still too early to categorize this … like a terrorist act, and even earlier still to point out those who could eventually be guilty.”

Theresly Malavé, an human rights attorney and founder of local NGO Justicia y Proceso de Venezuela, said the governments of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, had a history of arbitrarily detaining groups of people to consolidate power and justify political measures.

“They are prisoners of the power,” Malavé said of the six detainees. “Imprisoned people are needed to justify some government action.”

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Blame cast but no supporting evidence

Speaking at a press conference (YouTube) hours after being rushed off the stage by his bodyguards, Maduro accused Venezuela’s political opposition of joining forces with Colombia’s outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos and unnamed Miami-based assailants for the alleged assassination attempt (AP). He did not produce evidence to support his accusations. Santos denied any involvement (AFP).

“To Venezuela’s president I say this: On Saturday I was doing more important things. I was at my granddaughter’s baptism,” said Santos (Al Jazeera).

Venezuela’s Frente Amplio, a group of opposition parties, said the government was making baseless accusations.

“It’s evident that the initial reaction of the government isn’t aimed at attempting to clarify what happened but rather to take advantage of the situation and irresponsibly and sweepingly attack the ‘opposition,’” the group said in a statement (AP).

On August 5, Venezuelan Interior Minister Néstor Reverol said six people were arrested in connection with the alleged assassination attempt (TeleSUR). Two drones carrying C4 explosives were employed in the attack that injured seven armed forces members, according to Reverol. That same day, Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez told Sputnik three drones were used in the attack.

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On August 6, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the alleged conspirators would be charged with serious crimes, including treason and attempted homicide against the president (TeleSUR).

Malavé cast doubt on the government’s version of events.

“The problem is that there’s never a serious investigation,” she told WikiTribune. “It’s always the same. These type of things are always used in favor of the [Bolivarian] revolution.

“What is true is that there already are people detained, there are already people who have been incriminated, who are suffering the fate that all political prisoners suffer in this country.”

More on WikiTribune: Detained, disappeared, and tortured — for tweeting — in Venezuela

Separately, a little-known group called Soldados de Franelas (Soldiers in T-Shirts) claimed responsibility for the alleged frustrated attack. On August 5, they tweeted saying the plan was to fly two drones loaded with C4 at the president but that the drones were shot down by government sharpshooters. The message’s authenticity hasn’t been verified. Soldados de Franelas did not reply to WikiTribune‘s request for comment.

On August 7, Reuters reported that former police chief and anti-government activist Salvatore Lucchese said he helped organize the attack with members of Venezuela’s “resistance.” Lucchese said the operation was part of an ongoing armed operation against Maduro. Reuters was unable to independently verify Lucchese’s claims.

Crisis might still topple Maduro

Venezuela is reeling from an economic and humanitarian crisis. The country has the world’s highest rate of inflation (The Washington Post), high levels of violence and some 1.6 million of its people are now living abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration. In 2017, almost 10,000 demonstrations (OHCHR 2018) – some peaceful, others violent – rocked the country, killing over 100 people as security forces and protestors clashed.

Maduro was re-elected in May 2018. The elections were rejected as fraudulent by several multilateral organizations and scores of countries. Just over a dozen states – including China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Turkey – accepted the result.

Natasha Ezrow, director of education at the University of Essex and an expert of Latin American politics, said the government will probably be able to use the alleged drone attack to crack down on any real or perceived opposition and further consolidate control in the short-term.

However, she said the situation in Venezuela is becoming so desperate that she believes Maduro’s “dictatorship” will fall in the long-term.

“It’s a crisis point,” she told WikiTribune. “All it requires is just enough people in the military [a key Maduro ally] to decide that they’re not going to fire on protestors.

“I really, really would be surprised if within the next three years Maduro’s still in power.”

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