Venezuelan officials said they foiled an early morning attempt by a group of armed men to invade the country by boat Sunday, killing eight attackers and arresting two more.
Socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said that two of the attackers were being interrogated by authorities. Cabello said the invasion attempt was carried out by neighboring Colombia with United States backing in a plot to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. Both countries have repeatedly denied earlier Venezuelan allegations of backing for military plots against the socialist government.
“Those who assume they can attack the institutional framework in Venezuela will have to assume the consequences of their action,” said Cabello, adding that one of the detained claimed to be an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Authorities said they found Peruvian documents, high-caliber weapons, satellite phones, uniforms and helmets adorned with the U.S. flag.
Interior Minister Nestor Reverol described the attackers as “mercenary terrorists” bent on destabilizing Venezuela’s institutions and creating “chaos.” Officials said the attack took place on a beach in La Guaira, about 20 miles from Caracas and near the nation’s largest airport.
Authorities say the attackers had vehicles and heavy arms waiting for them in the port city.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis in recent years under Maduro’s rule. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care has driven nearly 5 million to migrate.
A coalition of nearly 60 nations backs opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, saying Maduro’s 2018 election was a sham because the most popular opposition candidates were banned from running.
The United States has led a campaign to oust Maduro, increasing pressure in recent weeks by indicting the socialist leader as a narcotrafficker and offering a $15 million reward for his arrest. The U.S. also has increased stiff sanctions, cutting off Venezuela’s oil sector to choke off a key source of hard cash.
In addition to that pressure, Maduro’s government has faced several small-scale military threats, including an attempt to assassinate Maduro with a drone and Guaidó’s call for a military uprising, which was joined by few soldiers.
Maduro and his allies say the Trump administration is determined to end Venezuela’s socialist government to exploit the South American nation’s vast underground oil reserves.
The Associated Press reported Friday that an apparently ill-funded attempt to amass an invasion force of 300 men in Colombia involving a former Venezuelan military officer and an ex-Green Beret experienced setbacks in March when a main organizer was arrested, an arms cache was seized and some participants abandoned its camps.
Cabello linked Sunday’s attack to key players in that alleged plot.
Meanwhile, Cesar Omana, a businessman who participated in an unsuccessful plot against Maduro a year ago, said some 30 armed commandos from the Sebin intelligence police raided his Caracas home early Sunday. Omana is not in the country.