Speaking at a televised event last night, Maduro said that his government had discovered and foiled a coup. Maduro claimed that the coup was directed by the United States, and involved Venezuelan air force personnel as well as the leader of one of the opposition parties. As of today, seven Air Force officers have been arrested in connection with the allegations.
The United States government is behind these coup plans against Venezuela. Yesterday and today we dismantled an attempted coup against democracy, the stability of our homeland. I’m talking about an attempt to use a group of Air Force officers to provoke a coup, an attack… I want to thank the young officers, the youth of the slums, and the intelligence bodies. Thanks to their co-operation we were able to discover this over the course of a few weeks.
Maduro explained that the coup was going to involve a Tucano, an airplane used primarily as a trainer by the Venezuelan air force. The use of the airplane would be the last move in a series of events that would begin with national unrest stirred by the opposition:
There would be looting, big demonstrations and these sorts of things. Then, there would be an international debate, calls for a humanitarian force… and then, some time during these days, they would use an armed Tucano to attack, adding to the economic, social and political events, the four elements they call ‘the perfect storm’.
While Venezuela does have 12 T-27 Tucano aircraft, the entire fleet is grounded for “major repairs”. In an attempt to address the inevitable question (“How can anyone launch a coup with an airplane that can’t fly?”), Maduro clarified his assertions later in the evening, saying:
The Tucano [to be used] isn’t from here. It’s one from outside the country with Venezuelan markings. They were looking for people connected to the Tucanos (…) our Tucanos are all grounded because they’re undergoing major repairs.
Maduro did not explain to which air force the foreign Tucano belonged.
Maduro also urged the army and his supporters to defend the government with their lives should anything happen to him personally, saying:
Maduro: … if some day, someone believed — someone was bought off, someone betrayed the revolution — if some day someone acted violently towards democracy and the people and did someone to me, the President, or did something to the people and its institutions, the people should declare themselves in a state of permanent “April 13”, until they can recover democracy, the constitution and peace, to speed up the revolution and radicalise it to the maximum level we’ve ever known. I am giving this order to our people and to the National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
By urging people to “declare themselves in a state of permanent April 13”, Maduro was referring to the attempted coup of April 11, 2002. Two days after the coup, on April 13, PSUV supporters succeed in regaining power with the help of supportive citizens, leaving 19 people dead and over 100 injured. Maduro continued:
I call on the people to remain alert. I call on the Armed Forces to remain alert, civil-military union. I’ve said it and I’m going to do it. I won’t let them damage the country. We have to remain one, two steps ahead. There can’t be another April 11. No, April 13 has to come before the 11.
Maduro also blamed Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in jail for nearly a year, for somehow being responsible for this latest alleged coup:
I’ve already said that I made a mistake last year by underestimating the Monster of Ramo Verde [Leopoldo Lopez]. I won’t make that same mistake anymore. I will not underestimate. Period.
Armed Forces Voice Support for Maduro
In light of the most recent coup allegations, the leadership of the Venezuelan Armed Forces voiced their continued support for Maduro and their commitment to protecting his government. Earlier today, Minister of Defence Vladimir Padrino Lopez expressed his “unequivocal rejection” of the alleged coup and said:
These officers [accused in the coup] have soiled military honour and violated their oaths by attempting to assault our peace.
U.S. Calls Accusations “Ludicrous”
United States Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the latest coup accusations “ludicrous”, saying:
As a matter of long-standing policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful and legal. We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela.
These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous.
Opposition Mocks Latest Coup Claim
Jesus Torrealba, the head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, was unconvinced by Maduro’s latest claims of the existence of yet another coup, and said:
In Venezuela, the coup that’s taking place is against people’s stomachs (…) the government comes up with these fantastic stories about coups so that people won’t talk about how they’ve ruined the country.
Who wants to bring down the government, if it’s bringing itself down? Who wants to get their hands dirty by bringing down a corrupt government?
Torrealba also voiced his continued commitment to achieving peaceful and democratic change in the country, saying that the MUD “has not and would not” participate in any violent action against the government, and that:
We are in fact going to get rid of this government — with an avalanche of votes.
Now, Maduro’s got another story about a coup. But who’s launched a coup here? You [the PSUV] are the ones who bombed Caracas in 1992. You’re the ones who bombed the Miraflores Palace, the Honour Guard Palace, the presidential mansion at La Casona. You’re the ones who bombed the La Carlota airport. Who are you talking about? A few days ago you were celebrating the 1992 coup… you hear these people talking about these plans to bomb different places, and you’d think they were narrating what they did in ’92.
Ledezma also highlighted the fact that Venezuela’s Tucano fleet is grounded indefinitely, possibly poking a hole in Maduro’s assertion that one of those airplanes would be used in the coup:
This government lives by defying the British Empire, the North American Empire, and it talks about war – some times with Colombia, some times with the United States. Yesterday, they confessed that our Tucanos cannot even take off, and it turns out that this coup was going to take place with Tucanos that don’t even have working landing gears? This is insanity.
This isn’t the first time Maduro has claimed to have foiled a coup attempt, and given the absurdity of this latest claim and the lack of credible evidence provided, I cannot believe this story.
Last year, Maduro said that his government had intercepted e-mails between opposition figures in which they openly discussed assassinating him. One of the men named in the conspiracy hired a private security firm which requested server data from Google to verify whether or not the e-mails in question had been sent from his address. According to the firm, Google provided clear evidence that the e-mails the government held as evidence had not originated from the account in question. In other words, they had been falsified. Despite the seriousness of the claim, no serious legal action has been taken against the conspirators.
Pointing to an enemy or to an imminent threat to drum up support is one of the oldest tricks in politics. It is a tactic that has been used time and time again, often with great success. I believe that when Maduro announced the story of the coup last night, he was doing the same thing he did when he pointed to the falsified e-mails last year: he wants people to be afraid so that they will continue to follow him.
Aside from the fact that Maduro did not provide one shred of verifiable evidence, the anecdotal details he provided were simply absurd.
According to Maduro, the United States reached out to Venezuelan air force officers, who would presumably be able to procure a Tucano for the purposes of bombing targets around Caracas. However, after Maduro corrected himself and said that the Tucano to be used would actually belong to another country, this connection between the U.S. and the Venezuelan air force becomes murky. This premise gives rise to questions that, upon even the slightest reflection, will lead one to realize that the allegations are a poorly constructed lie.
The Tucano was used during Chavez’s coup attempt in 1992, and at least one was shot down by F-16s, of which Venezuela has 20. The Venezuelan air force also has 24 SU-30s, a formidable Russian multiple strike fighter. If you’re planning to steal a single airplane for a coup, and you’ve got the means to do so, why not go for broke? Why use such a mediocre platform to launch such an important attack? Using a Tucano to carry out a coup when you could use actual fighter planes is the equivalent of stealing a bicycle to rob a bank when you could have just as easily stolen a Ferrari.
The United States has the most advanced military and intelligence force the world has ever known. Surely, any attempt by the United States to pull the trigger on a coup against Venezuela would involve something more serious than what is essentially a trainer aircraft?
Maduro was forced to clarify his claim after realizing that the entire Venezuelan Tucano fleet is grounded. Realizing the error in his lie, Maduro said that the Tucano to be used in the coup wasn’t really Venezuelan, but rather, would be painted with Venezuelan markings to resemble a Venezuelan airplane. He did not say from which country this Tucano would originate. Why would it matter what markings the airplane had? The entire Tucano fleet is grounded. Why not just erase all the markings on the coup Tucano and call it a day? Why go through the trouble of painting it to look like a Venezuelan Tucano, if anyone in the air force would be able to tell immediately that the airplane was not Venezuelan by virtue of the entire fleet being grounded? Why aim for that kind of useless deception?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and Maduro has not provided any. Until he does, these latest claims are hearsay, and cannot be taken seriously.