Venezuelan officials released videos that may confirm President Nicolás Maduro was the target of an alleged drone attack on Saturday. And that’s made Maduro’s opponents fearful of a hard regime crackdown.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was giving a speech at a military ceremony in Caracas when explosions rang out overhead. Maduro was unhurt, but six soldiers were reportedly injured. Maduro declared it a drone attack aimed at him.
Most Venezuelans were skeptical. They’re used to Maduro and his authoritarian socialist regime creating conspiracies. But on Sunday videos surfaced that, if authentic, do indeed seem to show drones hovering and then exploding near the site of Maduro's speech. One in midair; the other after it hit an apartment building.
(Venezuelan officials said the military prevented the drones and their explosives from reaching Maduro by blocking their operation signals as they approached. Firefighters told the Associated Press they believed the apartment building blast may have been a propane gas tank explosion, but residents there told reporters they did see a drone strike the building and blow up.)
"We have to admit the government's claim seems more credible now," opposition activist Saverio Vivas of the Movement for Democracy and Inclusion told WLRN from Caracas.
Vivas added the videos may also lend more credibility to a claim posted on Twitter Saturday night by a group of supposed ex-security force members. Calling themselves Soldados de Franela (Soldiers in T-Shirts), they took credit for the alleged drone attack – and said it proves Maduro’s regime is “vulnerable.”
— Soldados de Franelas (@soldadoDfranela) August 4, 2018
Maduro opponents like Ramón José Medina say that’s why they expect the regime to now ratchet up its persecution against them.
"You're going to see more regime repression now, because it's more scared than ever on both the political and economic fronts," said Medina, a leader of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), adding it was ironic the explosions went off just as Maduro was promising recovery from Venezuela’s catastrophic economic collapse.
Medina said the regime will also use the drone attack to distract Venezuelans from that crisis – which the vast majority of them blame on Maduro. That’s especially true, he added, since other videos embarrassed the regime by showing soldiers fleeing in panic from the attack scene.
Sunday evening the government said six people have been arrested so far – one of whom may be a member of the Soldiers in T-Shirts group. Maduro, meanwhile, has accused everyone from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to Venezuelan expats in Florida for the alleged drone attack.