Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is still in charge — that much we know. What is less clear is whether he has a stronger or weaker grasp on power after the murky late-night helicopter shooting at the Supreme Court building, and a mob attack on parliament this past week.
The brazen assaults on power may help Maduro justify a clamp down on the opposition, but they might also hasten a coup or all-out civil war. Caracas-based daily El Nacionalreports that several former loyalists are currently undermining the ruling government's authority far more than longtime opponents to Maduro, including several who are in prison.
One is the former interior minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, whom Maduro has insinuated was involved in Tuesday night's helicopter assault. Rodríguez scoffed at the accuracy of the president's intelligence reports, stating he had nothing to do with the fugitive pilot, Óscar Pérez, who is also an actor.
The most notable opposition figure to emerge in recent months is Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former Maduro loyalist. In March she denounced as illegal the bungled attempt by the president and the Supreme Court to simply "cancel" parliament, and has opposed the touted Constituent Assembly and vowed to defend with her life the Bolivarian constitution laid down by the late president Hugo Chávez. On Wednesday, she ridiculed Maduro's declarations about a "terrorist attack" on the Supreme Court, saying he was seeing terrorism everywhere.
The political maneuvering at the top changes little about the dire state of daily life for millions of Venezuelans.
Despite support building for Ortega, as evidenced in recent footage of bystanders applauding her in a Caracas bakery, authorities have frozen her accounts and prevented her from leaving Venezuela. She is to appear in court next week for questioning.
The political maneuvering at the top changes little about the dire state of daily life for millions of Venezuelans. Some have noted that people have now mastered the routine of combining anti-government protests with searching for food and consumer products that are hard to come by.
But Maduro's determination to hold on to power at any cost may well push the country into civil war. On Tuesday, government supporters briefly besieged parliament, preventing legislators from leaving, while the Speaker, Julio Borges, was separately shown being pushed out of the parliamentary building by a National Guard colonel.
Ortega is breaking ranks — Photo: Wikipedia
Fatalities after three months of protests have now reached 80, and the opposition is planning another major anti-government protest in Caracas. But El Universal daily also reports that army vehicles are now increasingly visible and mobile in the capital.
With longtime opposition figures jailed, attention is increasingly focused on Ortega, who must walk a fine line of vigorously countering Maduro with calls to remain within the law — she is, after all, the Attorney General. Denouncing "state terrorism" on Wednesday, she told the press in Caracas that "we are facing barbaric actions. They are promoting violence ... inciting an armed insurrection. It's like they are desperate for a military uprising. I call on all Venezuelans to abide by the Constitution and the law."