Caracas, December 23, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan military confronted an armed group on Sunday morning after it stormed a military facility in the southeastern state of Bolivar.
According to reports, a group of 12 men led by a fugitive military officer attacked the headquarters of the 513 Mariano Montilla Battalion in Gran Sabana, Bolivar State, in the early hours of Sunday.
The group took the commanding officer hostage and made their way to another military base, housing a tank division, in nearby Santa Elena de Uairen, where they made out with 112 rifles and munitions, as well as two vehicles.
The next attack was against a police station, where the assailants acquired more weapons. Upon leaving, they were confronted with a military control post and fled towards the border with Brazil.
The Venezuelan armed forces subsequently engaged the assailants. One soldier was killed in the firefight, while Venezuelan authorities reported that several arrests had been made and most of the weapons recovered.
Among those arrested was Darwin Malaguera Ruiz, who allegedly led the operation and was wounded. He is a former National Guard officer who deserted on February 23 when the Venezuelan opposition attempted to force “humanitarian aid” across the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
Taking to Twitter Sunday afternoon, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez alleged that the “terrorist group” responsible for the attack was trained in Colombian “paramilitary camps” and received support from the Bolsonaro government in Brazil. He did not offer further details.
For his part, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez blamed “extremist opposition sectors” for the assault, adding that the armed forces and other security bodies are pursuing the “terrorists” who escaped.
Venezuela’s southeastern Amazon region has long been a hotbed of illegal gold mining and cross-border smuggling, where the state’s presence has been reduced. In recent years, tensions have been rising between the Maduro government and region’s Pemon and other indigenous communities, fueled by the deepening economic crisis and Caracas’ controversial Orinoco Mining Arc initiative. The increasingly antagonistic relationship led some Pemon communities to back opposition efforts on February 23, with a number of Pemon civilians reportedly killed by authorities in the ensuing confrontations. Local sources have reported that the assailants responsible for Sunday’s attack were Pemones.
Edited and with additional reporting by Lucas Koerner from Caracas.