By JOSHUA GOODMAN
CARACAS, Venezuela — A police helicopter fired on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry in what President Nicolas Maduro said was a thwarted “terrorist attack” aimed at ousting him from power.
The confusing exchange, which is bound to ratchet up tensions in a country already paralyzed by months of deadly anti-government protests, took place as Maduro was speaking live on state television Tuesday. He later said the helicopter had fired on the pro-government court with grenades, one of which didn’t go off, helping avoid any loss of life.
Adding to the intrigue, pictures of a blue police helicopter carrying an anti-government banner appeared on social media around the same time as a video in which an alleged police pilot, identified as Oscar Perez, called for a rebellion against Maduro’s “tyranny” as part of a coalition of members of the country’s security forces. Authorities said they were still searching for the man.
“We have two choices: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government,” the man said while reading from a statement with four people dressed in military fatigues, ski masks and carrying what looked like assault rifles standing behind him.
Many of Maduro’s opponents took to social media to accuse the president of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution. Venezuela has been roiled by anti-government protests the past three months that have left at least 75 people dead and hundreds injured.
After the incident, Maduro sounded alternately calm and angry as he told the audience about what had happened in the airspace just beyond the presidential palace.
“It could’ve caused a tragedy with several dozen dead and injured,” he said, calling it a “terrorist attack.”
Later, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement from the government…