Ex-city police chief claims role in Venezuela drone attack

A former Venezuelan municipal police chief and anti-government activist says he helped organize an operation to launch armed drones over a military rally on Saturday that President Nicolas Maduro has called an assassination attempt.

In an interview, Salvatore Lucchese, a Venezuelan activist who was previously imprisoned for his role in past protests, told Reuters he orchestrated the attack with a loose association of anti-Maduro militants known generally in Venezuela as the “resistance.”

The “resistance” referred to by Lucchese is a diffuse collection of street activists, student organizers and former military officers. It has little formal structure, but is known in the country mostly for organizing protests in recent years in which demonstrators have clashed with police and soldiers.

Reuters could not independently verify Lucchese’s claims about the attack, in which drones flew over the rally in central Caracas. Explosives aboard the drones detonated, injuring seven military officers and sending attendees scurrying for cover.

Lucchese described the incident as part of a sustained, armed effort against Maduro. He declined to describe his precise role in the operation, in the broader resistance or identify others involved, citing the need to protect their identity.

“We had an objective and in the moment we were not able to materialize it 100 percent,” Lucchese said in an interview in Bogota, where he is traveling because of activities with other opposition figures. “The armed struggle will continue.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Lucchese parted ways with Popular Will, a prominent opposition party, saying he disagreed with its continued dialogue with Maduro’s administration. The government is widely criticized for authoritarian tactics, human rights abuses and economic policies that have led to recession and malnutrition across the formerly prosperous Andean nation.

Juan Guaido, one of Popular Will’s national leaders, said Lucchese was expelled for “differences with the party and the national leadership” but did not elaborate further.

Guaido also told Reuters Popular Will rejects the use of violence, a position echoed by other mainstream opposition parties in the wake of the attack.

Maduro, who was chosen by late leftist President Hugo Chavez as the Socialist Party candidate to succeed him in 2013, often says Venezuela’s problems are the result of an “economic war” by enemies abroad, including the United States. He blamed the drone attack on right-wing opposition figures and foreign enablers, specifically citing the government of neighboring Colombia.

Colombia’s government has denied any involvement.

In a televised broadcast on Tuesday night, Maduro mentioned Lucchese and linked him to Colombia’s new right-wing president Ivan Duque.

“A former police boss of the Venezuelan right has been claiming responsibility for leading the attack. Today he was a special guest at the swearing-in of Colombia’s incoming president,” said Maduro.

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