World

Is Venezuela at War? Protesting Helicopter Pilot Oscar Perez Is an Actor Known as the Venezuelan James Bond

A Venezuelan police pilot flew a helicopter over the country’s highest court in an apparent act of protest on Tuesday just after President Nicolas Maduro threatened to take up arms to stay in power.

The police helicopter was stolen by pilot Oscar Alberto Perez and dropped “at least four grenades” over the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, according to the Venezuelan government.

Video footage from a Venezuelan-based reporter and other images shared on social media show a banner flying from the helicopter reading “350 Libertad”—meaning “350 Freedom” in Spanish—an apparent reference to the 350th article of the Venezuelan constitution, which allows for disobedience to any regime or authority that violates democratic values or human rights.

The government statement uploaded on YouTube on Tuesday evening branded Perez’s actions a “terrorist attack” that aimed to overthrow Maduro and said that it was investigating the pilot’s links to U.S. intelligence.

But opposition leaders have instead dismissed the helicopter attack as being staged by pro-government forces to deflect from Maduro’s crackdown on protesters, journalists and lawmakers. They have called for new protests to take place today.

Perez appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the attack. In it, he wears a military uniform and is surrounded by four other men in military fatigues with their faces covered.

“We speak to you on behalf of the state. We are a coalition between military, police and civilian officials, in search of balance and against this transitory and criminal government,” Perez says in the video, introducing himself and the group as “nationalists, patriots and institutionalists.”

“On this day, we are carrying out an air-ground deployment with the sole purpose of restoring power to the democratic people and thus complying with and enforcing the laws to reestablish constitutional order,” Perez says, calling on Maduro to resign and to accept demands for new general election.

Perez’s Instagram account—on which he describes Venezuela as “my nation and my passion”—has more than 200,000 followers, and his first post is dated June 2012. The pilot belonged to the Special Actions Brigade (BAE) of the Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) police unit.

But Perez also had a side career as an actor and took part in a Venezuelan action movie called Muerte Suspendida (“Suspended Death”) that was released November 2015. On his Instagram, several posts documented the shooting of the film, which led to his being dubbed the James Bond of Venezuela.

Before stealing the helicopter, Perez uploaded an image of Jesus Christ appearing before a group of soldiers from various historical eras, seemingly framing his actions as part of a mission to save the country from war. In a previous post, he shared an image with the logo of his unit above a sentence reading “God gives his toughest battles to his best soldiers.”

In other recent posts, Perez commented on the socio-political and economic crises facing the country, encouraging people to look after one another, especially the elderly, the sick and the young.

Venezuelans have been protesting against Maduro’s rule for three months, demanding new elections and the release of all political prisoners. At least 75 people, mostly teenagers, have been killed during violent clashes between protesters and the National Guard, which have been accused of shooting at demonstrators.

On Tuesday, addressing a group of supporters and government ministers, Maduro said he was ready to fight to protect the so-called Bolivarian revolution first started by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who was elected in 1998.

“We are going to fight. What we can’t do with the votes, we do with the weapons. We will free the motherland with the weapons!” Maduro said.