Foreign observers of the worsening economic crisis in Venezuela will likely remember one year ago when a police officer stole a helicopter and single-handedly staged a "coup" by "attacking" a Venezuelan government building. While that coup attempt was quickly exposed as a headline-grabbing hoax (and the perpetrator was later "accidentally" killed in a raid), in a lengthy feature published Wednesday, Bloomberg revealed details about a genuine plot involving senior Venezuelan army officials who had been hoping to dislodge deeply unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro has presided over an unprecedented collapse in Venezuela that has stoked massive hyperinflation and deadly shortages of food, medicine and other vital supplies. Despite his massive unpopularity, the coup - which was foiled when its leaders were rounded up by the military, jailed and tortured - was perhaps the most credible attempt to topple Maduro since he ascended to the presidency in 2013 following the death of his political mentor, former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.Nicolas Maduro
The plot, code-named "Operation Constitution", was intended to remove Maduro before his "reelection" vote in May (a vote that was boycotted by the country's political opposition). But before they could move ahead, the alleged conspirators were reportedly rounded up and imprisoned by Venezuelan military and intelligence forces.
The plot, code-named Operation Constitution, involved scores of captains, colonels, and generals from all four branches of Venezuela’s armed forces. The goal was straightforward and seismic—to capture President Nicolás Maduro and put him on trial. The plotters, wearing blue armbands marked OC, were supposed to storm the presidential palace and main military base and stop the May 20 presidential election. Some of the planning took place in Bogotá, but Colombian and U.S. officials, who allegedly knew about the plot and winked from the sidelines, declined to provide active support.
Then something went wrong. In mid-May, several dozen servicemen, including one woman, as well as a couple of civilians, were secretly arrested—some have been accused of treason—and imprisoned by a military court. Many say they’ve been tortured. The plotters believe they were betrayed, possibly by a double agent. This reconstruction of the conspiracy is based on interviews with one plot coordinator who escaped arrest, two who attended planning sessions, and lawyers and relatives of the accused. All spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Bloomberg also viewed a military court report laying out the government’s version of events; it corroborated many of the plotters’ accounts.
While ordinary Venezuelans have come to despise him, Maduro remains broadly popular with the Venezuelan military and other institutions of Venezuela's constitutionally socialist government - which is likely why he was able to foil the coup attempt. However, cracks in this alliance are beginning to form. As Bloomberg points out, some in the military have arrived at the conclusion that Maduro's ouster is the country's only hope for a...