On August 4, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was the target of the first-ever drone “assassination attempt” against a president. It took place as Maduro spoke at the 81st anniversary of the country’s National Guard. He survived the assault, as one drone crashed into a nearby apartment building and the other seemingly exploded in air.
The attack raised many questions whether it was a “false flag” or a botched assassination attempt against Maduro. Staged or not, the failed attempt will bring severe consequences for Venezuela. Any failed coups or assassination attempts will serve Maduro’s strategy to further radicalize and criminalize the opposition and strengthen the narrative about being under attack from foreign powers like Colombia and the United States.
Just after the incident, some Venezuelan friends contacted me to ask whether this incident was similar to the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. Although these two incidents were quite different, there are some striking similarities in terms of the reactions of the two governments. While the full story remains unclear, the implications and targets of the two regimes are clear.
A few hours after the attack, President Maduro appeared on television to declare the assassination attempt a failure. The authorities collected evidence in less than 24 hours and claimed to have identified the masterminds of the attempt. As a result of their unclear investigations, Maduro and his allies blamed the drone attack on an international right-wing conspiracy to oust him. He accused the “far right,” working with conspirators in Miami and Bogota—including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—of launching the attack. Classic.
The reactions of Turkish officials after the failed July 2016 coup attempt followed the same playbook. According to the Erdogan government, the failed attempt was instigated by Western imperialists and their in-house collaborators. Within the pro-government circles of the Development and Justice Party (AKP), the July 15th putsch was sponsored by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to ensure a pro-Western regime change. Reinforcing the official party line, President Erdoğan declared that the coup was “done by foreign powers” and that “the scenario was written outside of Turkey.” Pro-government media outlets quickly picked up the narrative of outside intervention.
Same playbook, different country
Turkish officials echoed the Maduro regime’s narrative after this weekend’s drone attack in Caracas. Turkish government officials and journalists interpreted the assassination attempt as a plot organized by “foreign powers” as they had in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. The headlines of the pro-government Turkish media were dominated by stories about the assassination attempt against Maduro and alleged outside conspirators.
While the incident failed to generate a wave of support from the Venezuelan people for the Maduro regime, the conspiracy has found a fertile ground in Turkey. Although these unsubstantiated claims have been rejected by the accused international actors, Turkish and Venezuelan officials seem eager to trumpet those conspiracy theories as a way of rallying their supporters around a shared, unsubstantiated enemy threat.
Erdogan called the failed coup attempt of 2016 a “gift from God,” and indeed it was for the purposes of propaganda and the consolidation of the government’s control over the military, the judiciary, and even the educational system.
Likewise, this incident will be a pretext for the Venezuelan government to attempt to distract international and national public attention from the crisis and criminalize the opposition. It is almost inevitable that Maduro’s regime will conduct a purge of his security forces and round up opposition leaders. After all, as Erdogan proved, that’s what autocrats do in the wake of an unconstitutional threat against their government. It worked for the Turkish autocrat. Will it work for Venezuela’s despot? Will the international community fall for it again?
Imdat Oner is a PhD student in international relations at Florida International University.