CARACAS A Venezuelan police pilot apparently commandeered a helicopter Tuesday and flew it over the supreme court building carrying a sign that read Freedom, a public show of dissent against the embattled government that prompted security forces to seal off government facilities and heightened fears of further unrest.
During a chaotic afternoon in the capital, pro-government protesters also surrounded the National Assembly building, forcing legislators to remain inside, and tanks were spotted driving around the palace of President Nicol s Maduro. After three months of near daily protest, Venezuela is on a hair trigger. The news of the dissident pilot and the mobilization of security forces prompted coup rumors to race through Venezuelan social networks. By Tuesday evening, however, it appeared that Maduro s government remained in control. In the late afternoon, Caracas residents saw a blue helicopter from the police investigations unit, the CICPC, circling the capital, carrying a banner that read Libertad and the number 350, a reference to the article in the Venezuelan constitution that allows people to disown their government if it acts in an undemocratic way.
The helicopter circled over the building housing the supreme court, which has backed Maduro s efforts to block early elections and to change the constitution. The communications minister said that the helicopter dropped four grenades and that three exploded.
Venezuelan news reports identified the pilot as Oscar Perez, a member of military special forces, citing his posts to social media. The reports note that Perez has acting experience, having produced and starred in a Venezuelan film, Death Suspended. Wearing a uniform and reading from notes, he spoke into a video camera about the criminal government as four masked men with guns stood behind him. Describing his group as a nonpartisan alliance of military, police and civilian officials, Perez said that their fight was not against the rest of the security forces.
It s against the impunity imposed by this government, he said. It s against tyranny. It s against the deaths of young people who are fighting for their legitimate rights. It s against hunger. It was not immediately clear whether there was any wider security-forces movement against Maduro s government. Some Venezuelans wondered whether the helicopter incident was staged to justify further deployments of the security forces.
Right now, I only see two possibilities: Either the pilot was tricked or it was staged, said F lix Seijas Rodr guez, a political analyst in Caracas. It makes no sense. Venezuelan opposition groups and protesters have been outraged by the Maduro government s attempts to dissolve the National Assembly and change the constitution, as well as by the near daily clashes between security forces and protesters. More than 70 people have died, and at least 1,000 have been injured. Thousands have been arrested, and detainees have alleged physical and mental abuse by security forces.
Maduro, who has presided over an economic collapse that has caused extreme shortages of food and medicine, has refused to back down. On Tuesday, he said during a rally before supporters that his government was willing to use weapons to preserve the socialist movement started by Hugo Ch vez, who died in 2013.
If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat, Maduro told the crowd. We would never give up, and what couldn t be done with votes, we would do with weapons.
We would liberate the fatherland with weapons. Maduro, who has long accused the United States of propping up his enemies, also called out President Trump, saying: You have the responsibility: Stop the madness of the violent Venezuelan right wing. After the helicopter incident, National Guard and other security personnel in Caracas took positions around government buildings, including Miraflores, the presidential palace. Maduro said he had ordered the armed forces on high alert to keep the peace.
At the National Assembly, pro-government gangs known as colectivos which often ride around on motorcycles and are known for violence temporarily prevented a group of lawmakers from leaving.
Partlow reported from Mexico City. Nick Miroff contributed to this report.
On Monday, June 27, 2017, a Victoria County jury convicted 23 year old Luz Albert Hernandez, of engaging in organized crime activity to commit aggravated robbery and/ or aggravated assault and two counts of the aggravated robbery of the J.P. Game Room. This conviction was 8 weeks after Luz Albert Hernandez previous felony convictions for engaging in organized criminal activity and aggravated assault. During a week-long jury trial presided over by 267th District Judge Bobby Bell, testimony of crime victims established that the robbery of the game room at gun point netted $7,000 to $8,000. According to victims and co-defendants who testified, the two masked robbers were aided by the game room security guard , all of whom belonged to the Surenos 13 street gang. After finding Hernandez guilty on all counts on Friday, the jury heard evidence in the punishment phase of the trial yesterday that included Hernandez s criminal history as a member of both the 18th Street Gang and the Surenos 13, as well as a robbery conviction where a couple was viciously beaten for a cigarette lighter. Recurring evidence demonstrated his crimes were fueled by drugs, alcohol and greed.
Jurors also heard that after Hernandez s April 26th conviction for Aggravated Assault in the beating of a patron at a local boot shop, Hernandez became upset and sought to hire someone to kill a witness, and also began plotting to murder the District Attorney. A cellmate testified that Hernandez obsessed about attacking District Attorney Steve Tyler. Hernandez through associates learned where Tyler lives, what he drives, and his daily routines. Testimony in the case showed Hernandez planned to have gang members smoke or gun down the District Attorney as he walked his daughter to school in the morning. A witness also said Hernandez planned to retaliate against the judge who presided over his April trial. Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler, who personally tried this case, argued that there could be no greater evidence that Hernandez was a hardened criminal who would not accept responsibility and had no interest in reform.
The jury deliberated three hours and sentenced Luz Albert Hernandez to 50 years in prison and a $5000 fine in each of the three counts (Engaging in Organized Crime, Aggravated Robbery & Aggravated Robbery). The defendant will serve these sentences concurrently or the same time. The presiding judge stacked these sentences so that the defendant must first serve his sentence in the prior conviction before these new sentences. The presiding judge also made an affirmative finding that these crimes were the activities of the criminal street gang Surenos 13 and involved the use of deadly weapons, namely firearms. With these findings, Luz Albert Hernandez will be housed in administrative segregation (isolation) and must serve at least half of the sentences before becoming eligible for parole.
We at the D.A. s office, in law enforcement and citizens have continued to rid our community of violent offenders and criminal street gangs. We no longer have double digit murders each year from openly warring gangs. However, we will continue this fight so long as there are neighborhoods where people are endangered, kids recruited and poisoned, drugs peddled, and property damaged or stolen by thugs and gangs. These jurors, representative of our whole community and justice; they determined the facts and decided the punishment. I could not be any prouder my boss, the good folks of Victoria.