Anti-Government Fighters In Venezuela Attack Army Base

Aug 7, 2017
Originally published on August 7, 2017 6:36 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There has been more unrest in Venezuela following a disputed assembly election last week. Yesterday, a group of men in uniforms raided a military base near the country's third largest city, Valencia. President Nicolas Maduro called it a terrorist attack - his words. Two men are dead. And now NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas with us. Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So this is not the first attack we've seen in recent weeks by someone in uniform, right?

REEVES: Yes. You'll remember that six weeks ago, a police pilot and part-time movie actor stole a helicopter and took off over Caracas and attacked the Supreme Court and the interior ministry with machine guns and grenades. So, no, it isn't first time. But this time, we've got a band of men who've gone into a military base. And, you know, the issue is whether this actually is a military group of people inspired by a desire to foment an uprising within the armed forces or not. That issue is still being - you know, it's still unclear, really.

CHANG: Right. If these were really members of the military, is this a sign that President Maduro's support from military is starting to crack?

REEVES: Yeah, it would be. I mean, the army officially says that they are civilians dressed up in military uniforms led by a deserter who is wanted and has been wanted for some time for fomenting rebellion against the Maduro government. But if it turns out it's actually a military attack by the military, yes, it certainly would be a sign that support is beginning to crack. To what extent is clear. Everybody here watches the military because, without it, Maduro's ability to maintain his power would be very seriously compromised.

He's enjoyed the support of the army so far. And, you know, people are watching this closely. The generals there - high command in the military do have an interest in maintaining the status quo because they've got big interests business-wise in Venezuela. They're very involved in business. The middle ranks and lower ranks not to the same degree at all and suffer from a lot of the problems that only Venezuelans are going through. So people watch them particularly closely.

CHANG: What are you hearing from people around the country? I mean, does Maduro still seem to have popular support there?

REEVES: Well, he's not popular. I mean, that's been clear for some time now. What was interesting about this latest event, the attack on the military base, is that when people got word of it, they took to the streets. They started singing the national anthem in the area - not large numbers but dozens and dozens. And they started chanting freedom before being dispersed by security forces with tear gas. So people are, in some areas, on a hair trigger. And I think that will be an issue that, for the government of President Maduro and his security forces, will be causing them considerable concern.

CHANG: That was NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us in Caracas. Thanks very much, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.