Venezuela is nearing 100 days of protests, which took an unexpected turn Tuesday when a rogue police helicopter fired shots at the Interior Ministry and dropped grenades on the Supreme Court building in Caracas.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the incident a “terrorist attack,” but critics suggest it may have been staged.
“[Maduro] has been real unpopular for some time against the backdrop of a real crushing economic crisis of triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages,” says Joshua Goodman, the Andean news director for the Associated Press.
The protests began in March after the Supreme Court, which is very loyal to Maduro, stripped the opposition-controlled legislative branch, the National Assembly, of some of its powers.
Goodman says little is known about the attack.
“From his Instagram account, we’ve learned a lot about [the pilot],” Goodman says. The account, which has now been taken down, showed police officer Oscar Pérez – who was a relatively unknown actor on the side – scuba diving with assault rifles, carrying police canines and jumping out of planes.
“He seemed like a sort of James Bond-figure and that’s what’s fueling this idea among some people in the opposition that this was perhaps all a staged event,” Goodman says.
The helicopter attack also overshadowed other events in Caracas. Earlier Tuesday, the Supreme Court stripped Attorney General Luisa Ortega of her powers. Ortega has emerged as an outspoken critic of the government.
Goodman says it’s difficult to know what will happen next in the polarized nation.
“There is a widespread disgruntlement and disenchantment with Maduro, but that hasn’t translated necessarily yet into widespread support for the opposition which has had trouble over the years connecting with poorer voters,” Goodman says. “We’re basically at a stalemate right now; neither side is backing down, the protests continue – we’ve already had about 80 people killed in these protests – and it’s very hard to predict what will happen next.”
Written by Molly Smith.