Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday announced the death of a rebel group leader, a pilot known as “Rambo” and the subject of an intense manhunt since June when he hijacked a government helicopter and hurled grenades at the Supreme Court.
The announcement came the day after President Nicolas Maduro accused neighboring Colombia of financing terrorism in Venezuela, calling Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos an “offender” and a “thief.”
Nestor Reverol, minister of the interior, justice and peace, did not provide details on the death of Oscar Perez, who last year said he belonged to a coalition of military, police and civil officials “who oppose this criminal government.”
No one was killed or injured when Perez flew the stolen helicopter over Caracas, but it was a brazen demonstration of discontent against Maduro’s embattled government.
Venezuelan authorities said Monday that they had cornered Perez, 37, and other members of the group, though the fate of Perez was unclear at the time. He sent out videos via social media saying he and his men had attempted to surrender but that authorities continued their assault on a house in the impoverished El Junquito area west of Caracas.
"We aren't firing and they keep attacking us.... They want to kill us," Perez said.
The government said gunfire was exchanged and that two police officers were killed. In addition to Perez, five men and one woman also died and others were taken into custody. "A dangerous cell was dismantled in recent months that generated terrorist acts against state institutions," Reverol said.
Reverol said that police had recovered two AK-103 rifles, six AK-103 rifle loaders, two rifles, a shotgun, military uniforms, smoke grenades and ammunition of various calibers.
Perez, a sometime actor and model, was an inspector with a police intelligence agency known by the initials CICPC, the Venezuelan equivalent of the FBI. During his helicopter flight, Perez flew a banner emblazoned with "350 Liberty," a reference to a constitutional clause giving citizens the right to ignore the commands of an abusive government. In videos posted on his social media account, Perez had described himself as a "nationalist" and "patriot."
These are unsettling times for Venezuela. Large and angry protests have erupted for more than a year as demonstrators protest food scarcities, hyperinflation and what they say has been Maduro’s abuse of power.
Maduro told the constituent assembly on Monday night that, based on confessions from people detained in the raid, Colombia has been supporting anti-government efforts in Venezuela.
"We dismantled this terrorist group that called to take up arms to attack the institutions," Maduro said. He said the group was planning a car bomb attack on an embassy in Venezuela, but he did not name the embassy’s country. He said the rebels “had been promised protection by the Colombian government. After they set the bomb, they would take refuge in Colombia."