Venezuela Crisis Latest: Venezuelan Troops Quash Attempted Anti-Government Attack
STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
News out of Venezuela over the past several months has been chaotic and grim. Protests and violence there have become a daily reality. This morning, we got reports of a possible military uprising in the Venezuelan city of Valencia. The protest was meant to restore constitutional order, according to one uniformed man on a video posted to social media. But Venezuelan officials said security forces successfully beat back what they called a, quote, "terrorist attack." This all comes after the disputed election and formation of a new legislative super body aligned with President Nicolas Maduro. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Venezuela. He joins us now. Hi, Philip.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
SMITH: So tell us, what's happening in Valencia?
REEVES: Well, this all started very early this morning at around 4:30 a.m., well before dawn. Residents in Valencia started hearing shooting. They heard a lot of shooting. Government officials later said that there was a terrorist attack going on at a military base there that they swiftly put down, they say. And they made about seven arrests. But at around the same time - I mean, early this morning - a video also appeared on social media that you referred to, in which you see about 20 men in military uniform. Several of them have guns, and they're in front of a guy who identifies himself as a captain. And he says that they're engaged in what he calls civil and military action, not, he says, a coup. And that's aimed, he says, at re-establishing constitutional order in Venezuela.
Now, during the day, reports have been coming in as to who this captain is, and there are reliable reports that he left the army a few years ago, that he's wanted by Venezuelan security forces for leading a rebellion against the government. And he appeared a few years back on CNN and gave a very strongly critical interview about what he perceives to be the failures of the government here. So we know a bit more about him, but it's still not entirely clear to what degree this was a military uprising.
SMITH: What are you hearing from people about this uprising?
REEVES: Well, there really is a lot of interest in this because one of the key issues in Venezuela is whether the army will continue, as it has done to date, to give its support to President Maduro. People are looking to see whether that support will crack. And, actually, the military put out a statement. They said that these guys are all civilians in military uniforms and that they're with this guy who they described as a deserter. And in that statement, quite significantly, I think, the military said that they are giving unconditional support as ever to Maduro. So they re-emphasized that they are still supporting him in that statement.
SMITH: Well, how much support does Maduro have right now? I mean, we've been hearing a lot of reports of people who were formerly very loyal to Maduro turning against him.
REEVES: Yeah, the best example of that is the chief prosecutor of this country, who, just yesterday, was removed from her job by a vote in the newly created, highly controversial constituent assembly and replaced by a government loyalist. She says she doesn't recognize that decision and intends to stay. That's just one of a number of people who've distanced themselves or cease to support the government. Generally, though, people talk about Maduro's support being around 20 percent. He certainly isn't at all popular.
SMITH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Philip, thank you.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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