Dissident officer steals helicopter, fires shots and throws grenades on Venezuelan government buildings

An officer with the nation’s leading law enforcement agency hijacked a helicopter Tuesday afternoon and hurled grenades as it flew over Venezuela’s presidential palace, Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court building in an episode that President Nicolas Maduro described as a “terrorist attack.”

The chopper pilot was identified as Oscar Perez, an official with CICPC, Venezuela’s equivalent of the FBI. The helicopter belonged to the CICPC and was stolen from La Carlota air base in eastern Caracas.

Perez also flew a banner from the aircraft that read “350 Liberty,” a reference to a Venezuelan constitutional clause that gives citizens the right to ignore the commands of oppressive governments, a reference to the Maduro administration. The flyover was perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of discontent in a once prosperous nation racked by protests against a government opponents denounce and inept and corrupt.

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After the incident, Maduro spoke to a group of journalists at Miraflores, the Venezuelan equivalent of the White House, saying the four grenades thrown from the helicopter could have caused dozens of injuries but apparently harmed no one. The government said 15 rounds were fired from the helicopter as well.

As of late Tuesday evening, Perez was still at large and the helicopter unaccounted for. Maduro accused Perez of hijacking the helicopter and identified him as a former pilot of former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a Maduro opponent.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said after Maduro's comments at Miraflores that the grenade attack was carried out by “an armed group financed by sectors of the opposition.”

Perez posted several videos of himself standing with armed masked accomplices on his social media account. He described himself as a “member of a coalition of military, police and civil functionaries who seek equilibrium and who oppose this criminal government.”

“We belong to no political current. We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists. This combat is not with the rest of the state security forces, it is with imposed impunity, against this sad government,” Perez wrote on his Instagram account.

There was no indication of rebellion among security forces elsewhere in the capital or across Venezuela on Tuesday night.

Maduro’s government has dealt with nearly daily mass protests since March 29 with increasingly repressive measures. Clashes between protesters and police and the national guard have left 75 dead, 1,500 injured and more than 3,000 arrested.

Opponents are protesting food scarcities, rising violence, a shattered economy and an autocratic government. Looting broke out in some parts of the country this week, with Venezuelans stripping already bare shelves of what products were left. Many Venezuelans are also outraged by Maduro's plan to draft a new constitution that would neuter the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Maduro threatened to put in place more harsh emergency measures under the so-called Plan Zamora civil defense scheme. “Special forces are in place to capture this group. We will soon know everything," Maduro said.

Perez is also an actor who had a role in the 2015 Spanish language film “Death Suspended,” which dealt with the CICPC.

Perez posted five videos on Instagram, and by late Tuesday night they collectively had been viewed 1.6 million times.

Comments left by viewers reflected the wide political divide in the country. One pro-government viewer suggested he was with the CIA — an unsurprising accusation given that Maduro often blames the United States for many of Venezuela’s problems. “What falsehood,” wrote another viewer. Yet another left the brief comment: “What a crazy.”

Other viewers praised him. “You have given me a drop of hope. Finally, someone to help us,” wrote one viewer. Another added, “May he be an instrument of God that rids Venezuela of the dictatorship.”

Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.


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10:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments on the Instagram account of Oscar Perez.

This article was originally published at 9:10 p.m.