On August 4th, an assassination attempt was made against the re-elected President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. During the leader’s recent speech in Caracas, an unmanned aerial vehicle exploded near the president. Six people were arrested.
Responsibility for the assassination attempt was assumed by the underground group “Flannel Soldiers”, which formed in 2014. In July of 2017, one member of the extremist organization, Oskar Perez, hijacked a helicopter and opened fire on the headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Supreme Court of Venezuela… he was later killed during a police special operation. Members of the “Flannel Soldiers” still present themselves as a front of resistance to the government.
Maduro has already placed blame on “Venezuelan and Colombian far-right groups ” for the attempt on his life, without specifying the specific names of organizations. At the same time, the Venezuelan leader also implicated Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos in the attack, and suggested that there are also forces in the U.S. interested in his death.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has unveiled evidence suggesting the likely involvement of the Americans or Colombians.
The context of opposition
Venezuela is currently embroiled in an extremely volatile political and economic situation. Following the presidential elections in May, the opposition has united in the Broad Front Coalition (Frente Amplio). In spring, the opposition called for street protests and demonstrations. One of the leaders of the movement, Nikmer Evans, stated that the state has begun implementing “punishments and a wave of repression” in response.
Immediately after the assassination attempt, representatives of the “Broad Front” stated that Maduro himself had staged the attack. According to them, the attack served as false pretense for making “irresponsible accusations” against the internal opposition, and allowing the government to “take advantage of” the scandal to “criminalize those who legitimately and democratically oppose [the government] and deepen repression and systematic violations of human rights.”
The version of events put forth by the opposition is bizarre and does not hold up against criticism. Maduro has enough complications to deal with on all fronts – both external and internal. Against a backdrop of maximum pressure (from criticism and demonization in the international arena to a real attempt at liquidating the state), he is attempting to save the economy of a country in crisis. The president is actively engaged in promoting the national cryptocurrency, the Petro, establishing economic contacts around the world.
Could the U.S. really be behind the assassination attempt ?
The Venezuelan authorities primarily suspect the U.S. in organizing the assassination attempt. U.S. authorities naturally declared that they were not involved in the crime (Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Fox News, “the US government did not participate in this at all”).
Nonetheless, Washington’s disdain for Nicolas Maduro is rather obvious. Latin America has long been considered the “backyard” of the United States. Venezuela remains on the United States’ radar, first of all, as an oil source – if a president more amenable to Washington could be installed, Venezuela could easily be used as a giant resource well. And, of course, the United States is also interested in curtailing China’s influence in the region, particularly as China continues to increase its presence in South America.
The White House is currently in a state of active hostility with the Venezuelan state. When U.S. officials and diplomats tour Latin America or participate in talks with countries more or less loyal to them in this region, they inevitably touch on the question of Venezuela as a “disobedient child”.
In February, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled throughout South America. During the trip he stressed that Washington will continue to exert pressure on Nicholas Maduro’s regime until he is removed from office or agrees to open the door for a “democratic process”.
The new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has behaved no less harshly – he demanded that Venezuela be excluded from the Organization of American States and that the country’s membership be suspended until “constitutional order” is restored after fair elections. The United States, Argentina and Chile do not recognize the results of the latest Venezuelan elections, calling them ‘rigged’. All this is not to mention the massive scandal resulting from information being leaked that the U.S. had seriously considered the possible military invasion of Venezuela in 2017.
Is Columbia interested in ousting Maduro?
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia are at a critical point. The conflict at the state level between Venezuela and Colombia reached a head in August of 2015. For a long time, Colombians have moved to Venezuela due to their countries critical instability; illegal businesses were organized along the border, leading to a serious increase in criminal activity.
The murder of smugglers in San Antonio del Tachira was a major source of an escalation in tensions between the two nations. Maduro claims that the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups in Venezuela is the principle cause of the rampant crime and general instability, and ordered the militarization of the border in response.
Maduro also accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of coordinating murders and crime within Venezuela. A state of emergency was introduced in a number of districts. Uribe reacted harshly, and openly declared that he would support the Venezuelan opposition “until the complete victory over the dictatorship.”
The next and current Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, continued this tough line, and openly announced his readiness to promote regime change in Venezuela.
Colombia is a strong ally of the United States, and a likely future NATO partner (in May, 2018 the country signed an agreement regarding global cooperation – Santos claimed that Colombia’s acceptance into NATO would soon enough be “formalized”). Military exercises are being organized within the country, as well as increased trade with the Americans, but the main element is mutual support at the international and diplomatic level.
On the 7th of August, the new president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, will be sworn into office. Considering that he studied in the US and has worked for American corporations, it is likely that his policies and rhetoric towards Venezuela will continue in line with his predecessors.