Oscar Perez: Venezuela action man in chopper 'coup'
An elite cop-turned-film star became the man of the hour Wednesday in the disaster movie that is Venezuela's political crisis.
With his tan and muscles, 36-year-old Oscar Perez may seem to have more in common with action fantasy idols like Vin Diesel than with your average Venezuelan cop.
Now Venezuela is wondering whether his alleged "coup" attempt in a stolen helicopter in the skies over Caracas on Tuesday night was scripted or real.
- Action man -
In a country enduring deadly political violence, Perez has cast himself as a real-life action man in interviews and photographs on his Instagram account, which show him doing shooting stunts.
"I am a helicopter pilot, combat diver and free-fall parachutist," he was quoted as saying by the newspaper Panorama.
That was in an interview ahead of the release of "Suspended Death," a film in which he appeared.
"I am also a father, friend and actor... I am a man who goes out into the street without knowing whether he will come back home again, because death is part of evolution."
- Branded 'terrorist' -
Perez is accused by the government of leading a band of renegade policemen who dropped grenades on the Supreme Court and fired bullets at the interior ministry.
President Nicolas Maduro called it a "terrorist" act and part of an attempted coup, after months of opposition efforts to remove him from office. He accused Perez of working for the CIA.
Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada called Perez a "psychopath." Vice-president Tareck El-Aissami called him a "deserter, fanatic and traitor to the homeland."
Perez himself appeared in a video released online admitting he was part of an aerial "deployment."
Reading from a written statement with an intense frown, he called for Maduro to quit power so elections could be held.
He introduced his band as "warriors of God" and called on Venezuelans to turn against Maduro.
"We are a coalition of military, police and civilian public servants... opposed to this transitional, criminal government," said Perez, flanked by four masked figures in black, two of them holding rifles.
Perez's whereabouts were unknown on Wednesday. The government found the helicopter and said it was hunting for him.
- 'Suspended Death' -
The 2015 movie was based on the real-life story of a kidnapping of a Portuguese businessman in Caracas in 2012.
Perez co-produced the film and played one of the police detectives in the case.
He said in interviews that he had been inspired to do the film in order to discourage children from getting into crime.
"Once the show is over, I want you to reflect for a moment," he said in a promotional appearance for the film, aimed at young people.
"The message that television sends, that the gangsters triumph, is not true."
Before acting, he was an inspector in the airborne division of Venezuela's criminal investigation department.
He has also been a police dog trainer.
- Scripted 'coup' -
Pressure on the socialist president has peaked over the past three months as opponents have staged daily street marches against him. Unrest has left 77 people dead, according to prosecutors.
Maduro has for months been accusing the center-right opposition and the United States of plotting a coup against him.
The spectacle of Tuesday's helicopter incident and Perez's video and film background have raised suspicions among Maduro's critics.
For some, whether true or not, the larger-than-life incident was just another sign that Venezuela's crisis has gone too far.
"Some people say it is a hoax, some say it is real," opposition legislative speaker Julio Borges told reporters.
"Whatever it is, it is very serious. It all points to one conclusion: that the situation in Venezuela is unsustainable."
© 2017 AFP