Share
2 Blasts, a Stampede and a ‘Flying Thing’: Witnesses Tell of Attack on Maduro

2 Blasts, a Stampede and a ‘Flying Thing’: Witnesses Tell of Attack on Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela — In the presidential box stood the small cadre who run the country: a loyal general who was now the interior minister, the chief judge of the Supreme Court and Nicolás Maduro, the president, who looked down at a parade of national guard troops.Mr. Maduro, bedecked for the ceremony with the gold chain…


CARACAS, Venezuela — In the presidential box stood the small cadre who run the country: a loyal general who was now the interior minister, the chief judge of the Supreme Court and Nicolás Maduro, the president, who looked down at a parade of national guard troops.

Mr. Maduro, bedecked for the ceremony with the gold chain and tricolor sash of his office, was ending his speech Saturday afternoon on the topic that is top of mind for every Venezuelan: the ravaged economy, which has left much of the population desperate for food, emptied the hospitals of medicine and driven hundreds of thousands to leave the country.

Before a loyal audience, the president tried to sound an optimistic tone on improvements to come, despite Venezuela’s dire condition.

“We’re going to bet on good outcomes for this country. T he hour has arrived for economic recovery,” Mr. Maduro said.

the violent protests of last summer that were crushed by security forces, with more than 100 killed and over 3,000 arrested. Since the government crackdown on those demonstrations, and the re-election of Mr. Maduro in May in a vote widely described as rigged, the opposition has largely been quieted.

On Sunday, Néstor Reverol, the country’s interior minister, said that “six terrorists and hit men” had been arrested, and that one had attacked the government before.

The ceremony was being broadcast on live television, and the camera, instead of going dark when the attack began, panned out over the crowd of assembled troops. In a close-up, a flash of fear came across the face of a young soldier in a red beret. “Let’s go to the right!” someone yelled in the background.

commandeered a helicopter last year and launched stun grenades at the Supreme Court building. The pilot, Óscar Pérez, was killed in a firefight with the government in January, posting messages on Instagram urging Venezuela to rebel up until his death.

The group’s message on Saturday night derided the government as “communists” and “drug traffickers,” saying the rebels would give their lives to restore democracy. But the vague statement left a key question open: Had they sent the drones?

When Venezuelans saw their president again, on television around 9 p.m. on Saturday, he stood before the podium in what appeared to be the same suit and tie.

He appeared unshaken, eager to explain what it had been like to be on the stage that afternoon.

“My first reaction was to observe and have serenity, because I have full confidence in the people and the armed forces and God who protects me,” he said.

He said it had been confusing, but he spent the moments trying to untangle what was really happening before him.

The culprits, the president said, were known: right-wing opponents and Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, whose term ends on Tuesday.

“All the investigations point to Bogotá,” he said, blaming the center-right president who has condemned him repeatedly for human rights abuses.

The Colombian government called the accusation absurd. Mr. Santos, it said, had been celebrating the baptism of his granddaughter on the day of the attack.

María Corina Machado, a right-wing Venezuelan lawmaker, also denied involvement.

“We want Maduro alive so he faces justice and answers to his people,” she said on Sunday.

Read More