Puebla, Mexico, January 17, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities revealed Tuesday more details of a shoot-out that left at least nine people dead, including high profile fugitive Oscar Perez.
Following an eight month manhunt, Perez and his alleged accomplices were tracked down after he appeared on CNN’s Spanish language broadcaster, CNN Español.
“The interview that a channel did helped in the investigation,” said Interior Minister Nestor Reverol.
On January 9, Perez was interviewed for the CNN program “Conclusiones”, in which he reportedly disclosed confidential information, according to Gregory “El Capi”, a self-described friend of Perez interviewed by CNN on January 15.
Reverol said the interview provided investigators with enough information to track Perez to a hideout 25 kilometres north-east of Caracas. The minister further claimed some opposition figures also provided information that aided in the manhunt – a claim the opposition has denied.
Reverol accused Perez’s group of opening fire on authorities when they approached the hideout and attempted to negotiate with Perez and his group.
“This heavily armed terrorist group maliciously began a confrontation, creating two fatal victims among the security forces and eight injured [Bolivarian National Police] officers during a fierce confrontation,” he said.
In addition to the two dead police officers, there have been unclear reports of the possible death of another individual present during the shoot-out.
Reverol went on to confirm seven members of the group were killed in the ensuing firefight, including Perez himself.
“Unfortunately, we had to neutralise seven terrorists of this cell who are: Daniel Soto, Abraham Lugo, Jose Alejandro Diaz Pimentel, Oscar Perez, Jairo Ramos, Abraham Agostino and a woman yet to be identified,” he said.
The battle ended an eight-month saga that many Venezuelans say played out like an action movie. A former B-grade action movie star and police pilot, Perez gained notoriety in June, 2017, when he hijacked a police helicopter and conducted a grenade attack on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry. In December, he reappeared in Miranda state, where he led a raid on a military barracks. Authorities alleged Perez and his accomplices stole as many as 3000 rounds of ammunition, along with assault rifles and pistols.
In the wake of Perez’s death, pro-government media has circulated allegations Perez was plotting to bomb the Cuban embassy in Caracas.
The allegations were based on comments by President Nicolas Maduro, who said, “We learned that they had prepared a car bomb to detonate in front of an embassy of a beloved and prestigious country.”
Venezuela’s opposition has responded by describing Perez's death as a possible extrajudicial execution.
“They applied the death penalty, which is prohibited under our constitution,” said Venezuela’s main opposition coalition, the MUD.
In the opposition-controlled National Assembly, legislator Delsa Solorzano called for a parliamentary inquiry into Perez’s death.
“We are in the presence of an alleged extrajudicial execution,” she said.
Solorzano continued, “If Oscar Perez and the people who accompanied him committed crimes, they should have been arrested and prosecuted … what we have seen is a group of people who were surrendering; and despite the surrender they were massacred.”
The opposition’s allegations have garnered the support of two former presidents of neighbouring Colombia, Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana.
“If Oscar Perez has been killed by the Maduro regime, military intervention in Venezuela must be immediate,” Uribe tweeted.
Maduro responded by accusing Uribe and Pastrana of supporting political violence in Venezuela.
“That's where the terrorists came from: Alvaro Uribe Velez, Andres Pastrana ... of course ... they finance them from Colombia,” Maduro claimed.
Uribe been accused of maintaining close ties to Colombian paramilitary groups, which Venezuela says operate on the border of the two countries.
Perez’s last moments: What we know
Venezuelan authorities have confirmed the raid on Perez’s hideout began in the early hours of Monday morning. At 4:15am, as many as 150 state security personnel surrounded the house. What happened next remains controversial. While Reverol stated Perez’s group opened fire on security forces, Perez gave a different story in a series of social media posts. During the firefight, he posted a video online where he claimed he had tried to surrender.
“We said we'd turn ourselves in, but they don't want to let us turn ourselves in. They want to kill us,” he said.
Perez continued by claiming security forces bombarded the home with heavy weapons, including rocket propelled grenades.
“There are civilians inside here,” he claimed.
However, Perez’s claim that state security forces refused to allow his surrender has been called into question by an unverified video recording that surfaced online. In it, what appeared to be a police official exhorted Perez to stand down, informing him, “The president’s orders are to preserve your lives.”
In what news website ContraPunto has reported was a transcript of the conversation between the fugitive and police major, Perez reportedly responded by repeatedly calling on security forces to join him.
“Who are the [state security] chiefs if we don’t listen to them, if we stand with the people… nothing, brother… Brothers if you join us in this moment… we would have the opportunity to take our country back,” he allegedly said.
After the exchange, the video appeared to jump to a scene of renewed combat between the fugitive, his alleged followers, and police authorities. It was unclear how much time elapsed between the dialogue and the subsequent fighting.
In a speech at the country’s military academy on Tuesday, Maduro praised the armed forces for their “efficacy and velocity” in carrying out his order to “capture and dismantle the terrorist group that was attacking military barracks, stealing weapons, and threatening … to place bombs and kill Venezuelans”.
Maduro said the operation would send a message to the “Miami-based counter-revolution and the Colombian oligarchy” that “every group they arm and finance to bring terrorism here will be met with the same fate”.
With additional reporting by Lucas Koerner from Caracas.