Venezuela movie actor behind helicopter attack on government buildings
Girish Gupta and Brian Ellsworth
Reuters | Jun. 28, 2017 | Caracas, Venezuela
The rogue police officer behind a helicopter attack on Venezuelan government buildings is an action film star who paints himself as a James Bond-cum-Rambo figure on social media.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro said Oscar Perez, a strapping pilot, diver and parachutist, was responsible for firing shots and lobbing grenades on the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court after hijacking the helicopter.
In a social media video, Perez said he was fighting a tyrannical, vile government.
Perez, 36, produced and starred in a 2015 Venezuelan action movie called "Suspended Death" about the rescue of a kidnapped businessman, which includes scenes of him firing a rifle from a helicopter and emerging from water in scuba gear.
He has an unusually public profile for the usually tight-lipped and secretive investigative police.
Perez has given interviews about his film and maintained a colorful Instagram feed with images of him riding horseback in combat gear, scuba-diving with rifles and pistols, and jumping out of a helicopter with a dog.
"I'm a man who goes out into the streets without knowing whether I'll return home," Perez told a local television network in an interview about the film in 2015.
The movie glorifies Venezuela's investigative police as they stage a complex and action-packed rescue using improbably futuristic technology. Asked what inspired him to make the movie, he said a conversation with a young delinquent led him to believe that movies could help change minds.
"(I asked myself) what can we do to create a positive idea, to be a weapon against delinquency? That's how 'Suspended Death' came to be," said Perez in another TV interview.
Reuters was unable to immediately get comment from Perez. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on Wednesday he had requested an Interpol alert for Perez's capture.
Perez's action came during a major national crisis as hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent months calling for an end to Maduro's presidency, amid food shortages, a collapsing currency and soaring inflation.
Critics accuse Maduro of creating a dictatorship by stifling dissent, using security forces to limit the right to protest and arbitrarily jailing demonstrators. Maduro dismisses the protests as a U.S.-backed attempt to overthrow him.
On Tuesday evening, Perez unfurled a banner from the helicopter with the word, "Freedom!"
Though he supposedly claimed to be representing a coalition of disaffected security and civilian officials, there was no immediate evidence that he had further backing.
In a 2016 video on Perez's Instagram feed, he stands with his back to a mannequin target and successfully shoots it with the help of a small makeup mirror for aim.
He also appeared in several public service videos including one in which a police officer takes a bribe from a driver he has pulled over, only for the driver to later kill the officer's son. Perez at the end of video looks into the camera and says "Corruption affects all of us. Denounce it."
His acting experience and his theatrical photos have spurred opposition criticism that Tuesday's incident, which did not include any reports of injuries or deaths, may have been staged by Maduro as an excuse to clamp down on adversaries.Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe