(CNSNews.com) – Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro on Sunday accused elements in the United States and Colombia of being behind what his government called a “terrorist attack” at a military base that left two people dead.
Earlier, White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster ruled out suggestions the U.S. may intervene militarily against what he called the “authoritarian dictatorship” in Caracas – as it did in Panama almost three decades ago – saying U.S. interventions in the region had “caused problems in the past.”
Venezuelan security forces are searching for a handful of men who escaped with weapons after allegedly attacking a base near Valencia. Two of the group were killed and several others arrested, state media reported.
Led by a man who identified himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano, the group of armed men announced in a video clip the launch of a “rebellion” against the Maduro regime.
The country’s armed forces, known by the acronym FANB, said in a statement the group comprised “civilian delinquents in military uniforms,” led by a disgraced junior officer who three years ago was accused of treason and “then fled the country and received protection in Miami.”
Maduro said on state television the FANB had responded “courageously” to the “terrorist attack.”
His foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said in a Twitter post “the black hand of imperialism” was behind the incident. He also pointed a finger at Sen. Marco Rubio, a leading congressional critic of the Maduro regime, and accused the Florida Republican of inciting “violence and bloodshed.”
Like his late predecessor Hugo Chavez, Maduro routinely accuses the U.S. of plotting or supporting “coup” attempts against his socialist government, but the latest incident comes at a time of grave crisis for the country.
More than 120 people have been killed in recent months during protests against the government and its controversial push to create a constituent assembly to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
The newly-established constituent assembly has now begun to operate, and in its first working session Saturday fired the country’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, an outspoken critic of Maduro.
Also on Saturday Mercosur, a trade bloc whose other members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, resolved to suspend Venezuela’s membership indefinitely for “breaking the democratic order,” citing the constituent assembly initiative.
The pro-government Telesur TV network reported that Maduro denounced the decision, saying Mercosur was guilty of double standards and had an “obsession” with Venezuela. He dismissed the government of Argentina as “miserable” and called Brazil a ‘coup-promoting oligarchy.”
In a television interview aired Saturday, McMaster dismissed the notion that the U.S. may intervene militarily to bring an end to the crisis in Venezuela.
Asked by interviewer Hugh Hewitt on his MSNBC show whether the U.S. would consider “pulling a Panama” – as President George H.W. Bush did to oust Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega in 1989 – McMaster indicated that was not likely.
“You know there’s a long history in the region of American intervention, and that’s caused problems in the past,” he said.
“We don’t want to give this regime or others the opportunity to say, ‘Well, you know, this isn’t a problem with Maduro, this is the Yankees doing this, this is – they are the cause of the problem.’”
He noted that Maduro has already made “lame attempts” to do just that.
“It’s important for us to place responsibility for this catastrophe on Maduro’s shoulders,” McMaster said. “He’s the one who has caused it, and he’s the one who’s perpetuating it.”
Prompted by Hewitt, McMaster drew parallels between Iran’s use of the Basij volunteer militia to crush opposition protests there (after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009) and the actions of violent pro-regime “thugs” in Venezuela.
“They’re already brutally repressing the Venezuelan people. You’ve seen this with these gangs of thugs – typically these are the sorts of organizations that are used.”
He said the regular security forces are used “as a tool of oppression” but what is becoming more prevalent as well as the use of “gangs of thugs as an extension of an oppressive, authoritarian regime.”
“You see this in Iran in the form of what’s called the Basij; you see this with these gangs of thugs in Venezuela as well.”
Since the Chavez era Venezuela and Iran have established strong diplomatic and economic ties.
McMaster said in response to a question it wouldn’t surprise him if Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force had a presence in Venezuela.