Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Sunday his armed forces crushed a brief attack on a military base led by a rebellious former army officer.
Maduro declared the attack was an act of terrorism financed by the United States and Colombia, but he gave no evidence for that claim in a regular Sunday evening television broadcast.
At least two of the intruders were killed during a firefight early Sunday with military units that overwhelmed the rebels at a base near the city of Valencia, in central Venezuela.
Accounts from Maduro and other Venezuelan officials indicated about 20 people took part in the assault on the Paramacay military base.
Ten of them fled before Venezuelan army units arrived, some carrying off arms, while those left behind exchanged gunfire with soldiers until about 8 a.m. before all were either killed or captured.
Uprising leader turns to social media
Maduro said “an active manhunt” was underway for those who escaped.
“I can't say it another way," Maduro said during his TV appearance. “It is an attack against the armed forces.” He congratulated army units that “responded in a united manner, with ... decisiveness.”
An army officer who identified himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano posted a video on social media in which he was surrounded by more than a dozen men in military garb, apparently members of the uprising. He declared himself to be in “legitimate rebellion” against what he calls Maduro's “murderous tyranny.”
“We clarify this is not a coup d'etat. This is a civilian and military action to restore the constitutional order and, more than that, to save the country from total destruction,” Caguaripano declared. He is said to be a deserter from the army who has the support of “right-wing extremists.”
Police disperse protesters
Some residents of Valencia demonstrated in support of the attackers, but were dispersed by police.
Four months of anti-government protests have killed more than 120 Venezuelans. The country's social and political turmoil worsened last week when Maduro swore in a hugely unpopular constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The assembly has already made its first major move, dismissing Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a former Maduro ally turned vociferous opponent.
The government claims 8 million people voted on July 30 to elect the new assembly's 545 members. The opposition, which voters to boycott the election, said turnout was less than half as much as the government claimed. In addition, pre-election opinion polls showed about 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the assembly.
Changes will bring peace, stability?
Maduro has said a new constitution will bring peace and stability. The opposition said the constituent assembly is packed with Maduro supporters — including his wife and son — and predicted it will try to dissolve the opposition-led national assembly and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship.
“Each step by the constituent assembly is a step toward the precipice by this government,” the opposition's parliamentary president, Julio Borges, said Sunday. “The only thing it has left is brute force. This is not a strong government. It's a rotten government which is failing. The only thing it wants to do is to cling to power.”
The United States has already imposed sanctions on Maduro and more could be on the way. The U.S., Canada, the European Union, and nearly all Latin American countries have refused to recognize the new constituent assembly.