Venezuela gov’t says it thwarted plot seeking to kill Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan officials said Wednesday they foiled a plot to overthrow the government that included assassinating President Nicolás Maduro and his closest political allies.

Maduro spokesman Jorge Rodríguez said on state television that a network of mostly retired police officers and soldiers planned to bomb a key government building, seize a Caracas air base and loot Venezuela’s central bank.

He also said the plotters wanted to edge opposition leader Juan Guaidó from Venezuela’s political landscape. Guaidó, leader of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, is seeking to oust Maduro from power with backing from more than 50 nations.

Rodríguez said the purported network wanted to steal a helicopter to liberate Raúl Baduel, a former defense minister now in jail and install him as president.

The government has claimed various plots over the years, generally offering little or no evidence to back its charges. The opposition contends Maduro uses such claims to justify his crackdown on dissent.

Guaidó, who said members of his own political team were confronted by armed men from Maduro’s security forces early Wednesday, dismissed the latest claim as yet another attempt by the government to distract from Venezuela’s real problems.

Maduro came under attack last August by two drones loaded with explosives, which detonated near the president while he spoke at an outdoor military celebration. He was not harmed in the attack, which officials called an assassination attempt.

Rodríguez charged that Colombian President Iván Duque and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera backed the purportedly thwarted coup plot, but he didn’t provide evidence.

Rodríguez showed what he said were scenes from 56 hours of intercepted video conference calls with the alleged plotters hashing out strategy for the attack planned for June 23.

The spokesman said first lady Cilia Flores and Diosdado Cabello, leader of Venezuela’s governing socialist party, were among those also targeted for assassination.

Maduro in a nationally televised address said later that the plotters were cowards backed by the United States.

“That’s not called politics,” Maduro said. “That’s called fascism.”

Meanwhile, Guaidó said members of his team were detained early Wednesday on a Caracas highway by armed men on motorcycles. They wore civilian clothes and didn’t identify themselves, but Guaidó later said they were Maduro loyalists.

The men told Guaidó's political staffers they would be taken to the headquarters of counterintelligence military police. Guaidó quickly arrived to defuse the situation by talking with the armed men, who left.

“Let it be clear to the regime that they will not intimidate us,” Guaidó said at a news conference, urging members of the police and military to stop taking orders from Maduro’s regime.