Rogue Venezuelan helicopter pilot Oscar Perez was killed in a police operation on Monday along with six other anti-government militants, the interior minister said yesterday, spurring opposition complaints of human rights violations.
Perez, a photogenic former police officer who once starred in an action film, last year used a hijacked helicopter to attack government buildings and stole weapons from a military base in what he called a rebellion against President Nicolas Maduro.
He appeared with a bloody face in nearly a dozen Instagram videos early on Monday, saying he was surrounded by authorities shooting at him with grenade launchers even though he was promising to surrender.
Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said seven “terrorists” including Perez were killed in the operation outside Caracas along with two police officers involved in the raid.
“In the face of an attack that put the lives of security officials at risk, the attacking group was neutralised using established protocols, with the unfortunate result of seven dead terrorists,” Reverol said in a televised broadcast.
Perez rose to fame in June after allegedly hijacking a police helicopter, flying over Caracas’ centre and firing shots at and lobbing grenades on the interior ministry and the Supreme Court.
He claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was to fight what he said was a tyrannical government.
He went into hiding afterwards, but frequently appeared in videos that circulated on social media calling for resistance to Maduro.
The government described him as a “fanatic, extremist terrorist” and had been carrying out a manhunt for him since last June.
Critics initially questioned whether Perez’ attacks were staged in cahoots with the government to justify a further crackdown on the opposition.
But his death prompted an outcry over what critics called an extrajudicial killing and turned him into a martyr for hard-line foes of Maduro.
“Honour and glory to those brave citizens who gave their life for their ideals,” tweeted former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, now in exile in Spain after himself being jailed on charges of leading a coup against Maduro.
Venezuela is suffering an unprecedented economic crisis that has left its once-prosperous citizens suffering from rising incidence of malnutrition and preventable diseases.
Foods and medicine are increasingly out of the reach of citizens because they are not available at supermarkets or are too expensive.
Maduro says the country is the victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries and fueled by economic sanctions levied by the government of US President Donald Trump.
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