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Military base attacked in Venezuela as group calls for rebellion

Soldiers were seen at the Paramacay military base, in Venezuela's third city, Valencia, on Sunday, which according to officials was attacked by "terrorists."

RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers were seen at the Paramacay military base, in Venezuela's third city, Valencia, on Sunday, which according to officials was attacked by "terrorists."

BOGOTA — Armed men in military uniforms and camouflage released a video early Sunday calling for Venezuelans to rebel against President Nicolás Maduro after his party established an all-powerful assembly meant to secure its grip over the country.

Around the same time, a military base was attacked in the state of Carabobo, near the capital, Caracas, an assault that the government said it had repelled, but not before some of the assailants made off with weapons.

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“We declare ourselves in legitimate rebellion, united more than ever with the valiant state of Venezuela, to disavow the murderous tyranny of Nicolás Maduro,” said a military man in the video, standing in front of about 20 men.

Local media reported the spokesman was Captain Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a dissident National Guard officer wanted by the government since 2014.

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On July 30, Maduro held a contentious election to secure control over the country by establishing a new governing body, called the Constituent Assembly. In the vote, Venezuelans were asked to choose delegates from a list of party allies who would rewrite the constitution and rule the nation while they did so.

Voters were not given the option of rejecting the plan, and opposition parties boycotted the vote.

On Sunday, local news media reported that explosions were heard at the Paramacay military base in Carabobo, an apparent attack by dissident security forces.

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Diosdado Cabello, a powerful member of the ruling socialist party, said the base was “totally under control” and added that “various terrorists have been detained.”

The government released a video later Sunday morning showing the base appearing to be in their control as lines of soldiers stood at attention.

“We were the target of a terrorist, paramilitary, mercenary attack against peace,” said Major General Jesús Suárez Chourio, a military commander who was at the base. “But they found us as a single fist, like an oak tree, united for peace.”

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said in a statement that those captured had confessed to having been under contract from “extreme right-wing Venezuelan activists with connections to foreign governments.” Padrino said some of the assailants had made away with arms from the base’s weapons caches.

The military maintained its “unconditional support” for Maduro and the Constituent Assembly, López said.

It was not the first time this summer that the government had faced rebellious officers. On June 27, a rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry. The group released a video where an officer named Oscar Pérez urged Venezuelans to “fight for their legitimate rights.”

No one was injured in the attack, but it made Pérez, who is also a part-time actor, a kind of folk hero among some of Maduro’s opponents. He has even appeared at an opposition rally.

The video Sunday used a similar format to that of Pérez, a single spokesman standing in front of a group of silent men. The man identified as Caguaripano said his men were not looking to stage a military coup, but rather a “civic and military action to reestablish constitutional order,” which would seek a “transitional government and free general elections.”

“The time has passed for secret pacts and deals between tyrants and traitors,” the man said.

He urged security forces to “display banners alluding to 350,” an apparent reference to Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which encourages people to “disown any regime, legislation, or authority that runs counter to democratic principles.” Pérez also flew a similar banner from his helicopter the day of his attack.

Caguaripano has called for rebellion before. In 2014, during another round of protests against the president, the military issued an arrest warrant against him and about 30 other soldiers and police for an alleged plot to overthrow Maduro.

In a video he released that year, Caguaripano said the “armed forces cannot and are not indifferent,” to “a Castro-communist system that now functions as the government of this country.”

It was unclear what the public reaction would be to the attack. Videos on social media showed small crowds gathered in Carabobo waving Venezuelan flags and banging pots and pans in a sign of support for the rebel security forces.

The idea of military intervention to solve the Venezuelan political crisis has been floated nationally. On July 16, opposition parties held a protest vote against the Constituent Assembly, two weeks before Maduro’s planned election, an unofficial poll they said drew more than 7 million people.

Among the three questions was a vaguely worded one asking whether Venezuela’s military should “defend” the current constitution and “back the decisions” of the National Assembly, what some interpreted as taking the temperature for support for military intervention.

The survey passed by a wide margin.

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