On Saturday, Venezuela’s authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro was speaking before a military parade. Suddenly, as video from the speech shows, he was cut off mid-sentence, with an explosion heard in the background. His handlers scrambled, shuttling Maduro off the stage — followed shortly by the Venezuelan military members in the parade running away from the scene.
In the hours since the incident, which left seven injured, the Venezuelan government has claimed that a series of drones had attempted to assassinate Maduro. They claimed that the drones were controlled by far-right opposition and Colombian officials.
Explosión durante un discurso del presidente de Venezuela Nicolás Maduro con motivo del 81 aniversario de la creación de la Guardia Nacional. Se produjo una estampida en el desfile en Caracas pic.twitter.com/d3Mxb5FJdd
— Noticias Telemundo (@TelemundoNews) August 4, 2018
However, firefighters on the scene told reporters that the explosion was not caused by a drone, but instead by a gas explosion.
Firefighters who were at the scene of the suspected drone bomb attack are disputing Maduro's version of events, claiming it was simply a gas tank explosion in someone's home nearby (which was the original claim, with photos of a burning apartment). https://t.co/JQH0TGhpYq
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) August 5, 2018
Whatever the reason for the explosion, Maduro — who has also in the past claimed that former President Hugo Chavez has appeared to him as a bird — has used the opportunity to blame political enemies, both domestic and international. Maduro blamed Venezuelans living in the U.S., saying that the “preliminary investigation indicates that many of those responsible for the attack, the financiers and planners, live in the United States in the state of Florida.”
He also accused authorities in Colombia for the alleged attack, even naming outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos — a charge the Colombian government described as “absurd.” The charge fits with prior allegations from Venezuela that Colombia is trying to topple Maduro’s regime.
Maduro said that several alleged perpetrators had already been arrested, but more are expected in the days to come. He called on the Trump administration for help in “fight[ing] terrorist groups that commit attacks in peaceful countries in our continent, in this case Venezuela.”
The alleged attack is the latest incident to roil the country, which has reeled the past few years from economic mismanagement and official graft. As the Washington Post recently reported, inflation is now spiraling in Venezuela toward nearly 1 million percent.
U.S. officials recently accused Venezuelan officials, including a number connected directly to Maduro, of laundering over $1 billion in ill-gotten assets via real estate and other assets in South Florida. American authorities also recently reportedly froze some $800 million in assets from another senior Venezuelan leader. The IMF found in June that Venezuela has the second-highest proportion of national wealth cycled through tax havens.