Special Briefing: Behind the ‘Drone Attack’ on the President of Venezuela
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the prospect of unmanned aerial vehicles being used to assassinate world leaders just got a little more real.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Two blasts in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday interrupted an open-air speech by President Nicolas Maduro — detonations that authorities blamed on twin drones loaded with explosives. Witnesses said they heard a loud bang and saw one drone fall from the sky and hit a nearby building. Maduro later called the attack, which occurred at a military parade in celebration of the country’s national guard, an assassination attempt. He was not hurt during the explosion, but seven soldiers were injured.
Why it does it matter? Maduro, who’s been in power since 2013, accused political foes in neighboring Colombia and the U.S. of trying to kill him. Appearing on state television, Venezuela’s defense minister described the attack as an attempt to wipe out the country’s leadership. Representatives of the Colombian and American governments denied any involvement, and critics of Maduro warned the socialist strongman might use the incident as a pretext to crack down on his political adversaries. The attack also draws attention to Venezuela’s escalating political and economic turmoil, which has led to widespread food and medicine shortages.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Who was it? Maduro appeared on television hours after the bombing to blame right-wing conspirators in Colombia, including his foe, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, as well as financiers from Florida. Venezuela has often blamed Colombia for its political turmoil, and there are a large number of Venezuelan immigrants living in Florida. Authorities have thus far arrested six so-called “terrorists and hired killers” linked to the attack following raids in Caracas. A group called “Soldiers in T-shirts,” which describes itself on Twitter as “loyal to the people of Venezuela,” claimed responsibility for the attack but provided no proof of involvement.
It’s just the beginning. Drone strikes, such as those on suspected terrorist leaders, are nothing new. Even the Islamic State has used these devices on targets for years. But there appear to have been few, if any, prior attempts by non-state actors on such a high-level political leader. And it’s probably not the last: As technology improves and becomes more accessible, experts believe these types of attack may well become the preferred weapon of insurgents, terrorists and revolutionaries.
By the numbers. Although Maduro has approval ratings in the 20s, he was able to win his second, six-year term as president in April with 68 percent of the vote (according to government figures), largely due to the opposition staying at home (or in jail). His nation is also in shambles, with inflation hitting more than 40,000 percent annually in July. And with nearly 90 percent now living in poverty, Venezuelans reported losing on average 24 pounds in body weight in 2017 due to food shortages and skyrocketing prices.
How do you solve a problem like Maduro? Ousting Maduro, who’s been blamed for Venezuela’s tanking economy and for stoking social and political turmoil, has long been a priority for his opponents. The problem is, no one quite knows how. Challenging him politically is virtually impossible, given Venezuela’s oppressive climate, and few believe the military — perhaps best poised to stage a coup — is willing to turn against him. Whether the drone attack was actually carried out by opponents, or staged by the government, most observers fear another crackdown, aimed at radicalizing his supporters, is coming.
WHAT TO READ
Drone Attacks Are Essentially Terrorism by Joystick, by Bernard Hudson in The Washington Post
“Weaponized drones start with a tactical advantage: Most can fly lower than current technology is capable of readily detecting. Even if they were carrying only a small quantity of explosives, they could bring down a civilian aircraft in flight.”
Who’s Left to Oppose Venezuela’s Maduro? by Félix Seijas Rodríguez in Americas Quarterly
“Many in the opposition are reluctant to put fighting the regime ahead of their personal interests. The alarming number of opposition figures in exile, in prison or under threat makes it even harder for these different factions to coordinate.”
WHAT TO WATCH
News Footage Shows the Moment of Explosion During Maduro’s Speech
Watch on the BBC on YouTube:
The Venezuelan Crisis Through the Eyes of a Millennial in Caracas
“Protesting has become a day-to-day activity.”
Watch on NowThis News on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER
Making a strongman look weak? While Maduro may well use the apparent attack to justify a crackdown, analysts say the event made him look vulnerable — and what’s perhaps worse, it didn’t seem to draw the instant outpouring of support that a strongman might’ve expected in such a situation.