Sunday August 5, 2018
By Emma Bowman, Jason Breslow
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, left, survived an "attack" during a ceremony to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the National Guard in Caracas on Saturday. Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuelan officials say that President Nicolás Maduro has escaped an assassination attempt unharmed.
was giving a live televised speech in the capital city of Caracas on
Saturday when, a government spokesman said, explosive-carrying drones
went off near the president.
Communications Minister Jorge
Rodríguez called the incident an "attack" on the leader, reports The
Associated Press, and said seven National Guard soldiers were injured.
had been addressing the national troops about the country's economy
during an event the government says was meant to mark the 81st
anniversary of the country's National Guard. "At exactly 5:41 p.m. in the afternoon several explosions were heard," Rodriguez said, according to the AP translation, in a national address
immediately following the incident. "The investigation clearly reveals
they came from drone-like devices that carried explosives."
the wire service adds, firefighters at the site of the explosion are
disputing the government's account of what it called an "attack."
Footage posted on Twitter by Venezuela channel NTN24 TV
shows the moment the scene descended into chaos before the broadcast
was cut off. Maduro is seen looking toward the sky in confusion. What
looks to be hundreds of soldiers break formation before scattering.
Maduro blamed the alleged attack on far-right factions in Venezuela,
in addition to the U.S. and Colombian governments, freelance reporter
John Otis tells NPR.
"This was an assassination attempt, they tried to
assassinate me," Maduro said in a televised address, later Saturday
evening. Maduro named Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as being
behind the attack, according to "initial investigations," without
Reuters cites a Colombian government source as
saying Maduro's allegation was "absurd" and that Santos was celebrating
his granddaughter's baptism on Saturday. "He is not thinking of anything
else, least of all bringing down foreign governments," the source said.
little-known group called the "National Movement of Soldiers in
T-shirts" claimed responsibility for the attack. In a series of posts on
social media, the group said it had planned to fly two drones but that
snipers shot them down.
"We demonstrated that they are
vulnerable. We didn't have success today, but it's just a question of
time," said the group, which says it was founded in 2014 to bring
together all of Venezuela's "groups of resistance."
Meanwhile, some opposition supporters condemned the attack, The New York Times reports.
"This is not the way out of the Venezuelan crisis," Nicmer Evans, a
political scientist aligned with the opposition, tells the paper. "No
one wants the exit to be the death of someone to resolve this country's
Saturday's alleged attack comes less than three months after Maduro
won a second term as president in an election that his main rivals and
independent observers say was marred by fraud.
55, succeeded Hugo Chavez when the longtime Venezuelan socialist died
of cancer in 2013. Since taking power, Maduro has presided over a
collapsing economy, hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a mass exodus
of refugees seeking to escape dire conditions inside Venezuela.
Maduro's government was the target of an assault last June,
when Óscar Pérez, a rogue pilot dropped grenades from a helicopter on
the Venezuelan Supreme Court and fired on the Interior Ministry. One of
Venezuela's most wanted men, Pérez died in January after government
forces launched an attack on an alleged terrorist cell.