Venezuela’s ongoing political turmoil took a dramatic and surreal turn Tuesday when a police helicopter started strafing government buildings in the capital, Caracas, in what President Nicolás Maduro has denounced as an attempted coup.
The helicopter fired at the interior ministry and dropped four grenades on the country’s supreme court. Both institutions are viewed as bastions of support for Maduro. No injuries were reported.
The helicopter was reportedly flown by a former police pilot named Oscar Perez, who posted a video on Instagram, flanked by masked men holding weapons, appealing to Venezuelans to oppose the country’s “corrupt government.”
The helicopter was dumped on the Caribbean coast and Perez is now on the run.
With Venezuela crippled by its economic crisis, there have been massive street protests in recent weeks, leading to dozens of deaths in clashes with security forces. Amid the turmoil, Maduro is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to draft a new constitution for the country to fend off what he has called a “fascist coup.” He has also accused the U.S. of attempting to overthrow him.
Maduro said that Perez used to work for former Intelligence Services chief Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who has recently become a prominent opponent. Rodriguez denied any involvement in the attack.
Venezuela has a history of coup attempts. Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, tried to orchestrate one against then-President Carlos Andrés Peréz in 1992.* After Chávez was elected president six years later, he survived an attempted coup in 2002.
While Perez’s action was no doubt dramatic, it’s not clear whether he is backed by a larger movement. The pilot’s Instagram persona is a bit, shall we say, eccentric:
He also co-produced and starred in a 2015 action film based on his own role in rescuing a kidnapped businessman, titled Suspended Death:
*Correction, June 28, 2017: This post originally misspelled Carlos Andrés Peréz’s middle name.