Venezuela says two military officials arrested over drone blasts


Venezuela chief prosecutor, Tarek Saab, said on Tuesday two high-ranking military officers were arrested for their alleged involvement in drone explosions during a speech by President Nicolas Maduro earlier this month.

The South American country’s government has accused opposition politicians and anti-Maduro activists abroad of scheming to assassinate the leftist leader with the drones, which were laden with explosives, during a military parade.

Fourteen people, including a lawmaker and several young men, have been arrested, while another 20 suspects remain at large, including in neighbouring Colombia and the United States, according to authorities.

Saab said Colonel Pedro Zambrano and General Alejandro Perez had been presented in court on Monday.

Further details were not immediately available about the detainees.

The Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries on behalf of the government, did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to contact the two officers.

The alleged involvement of military officials in the drone incident is notable in the convulsed oil-rich nation where the armed forces have long been powerbrokers.

Open calls for military intervention have grown after massive anti-government protests last year failed to unseat Maduro and he was re-elected in a May vote widely decried as a sham.

Scores of soldiers have been detained on accusations of conspiring against Maduro or of desertion, as they too sometimes struggle to eat three square meals a day amid the worst economic crisis in the country’s history and a severe food shortage.

The government has said the drone attack was carried out by 11 hit men recruited during anti-Maduro demonstrations and trained across the porous border with Colombia.

Authorities have said financiers in Bogota and Florida promised the group $50 million and a stay in the United States in exchange for killing Maduro.

Maduro’s critics say he is using the incident to stifle dissent and cement his power in the oil-rich nation amid the economic crisis that has brought with it salary-destroying hyperinflation and frequent power cuts.

He says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by opposition activists with the help of Washington, and that the United States government is seeking to undermine him as it did in the past with other Latin American leftists.