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2:10, 22 January 2018

Venezuela’s Most-Wanted Rebel Shared His Story, Just Ahead of Death


Venezuela’s Most-Wanted Rebel Shared His Story, Just Prior to Death

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The finish had come for Óscar Pérez.

Blood streamed down the rebel’s face. His males had been fighting behind cabinets and ovens as the Venezuelan government closed in on their hide-out. Hours later, he and a half-dozen other individuals lay dead on the floor.

Mr. Pérez, killed final Monday by government forces, had spent his final years starring in spectacular narratives — occasionally as a hero on the movie screen, other instances as a real-life rebel.

He had been the leading man in an action film, a pilot who fought crime from parachutes with a dog strapped to his back. Then in June, he commandeered a helicopter in the course of protests in Venezuela, fired on the Supreme Court and unfurled a banner urging the nation to rebel.

While his actions captivated many Venezuelans — and enraged the government — his audience was considerably diminished in his last days.

But Mr. Pérez spent many afternoons and evenings this month crouched more than a phone screen, sending encrypted messages to The New York Times. Every side sought to verify the identity of the other by sending short video messages throughout the exchanges.

The text messages sent in December and January, along with recordings and interviews accomplished more than the same period, are some of the final words of Venezuela’s most-wanted man, a rogue police officer who had captured the imagination of a nation, a fugitive fighter who seemed at instances to comprehend his days may possibly be numbered.

“I fight for the freedom of the country, for a greater tomorrow,” he began one particular afternoon in early January, speaking over a messaging application. “The fear of dying is what I have least now. It is not the fear of death, but the worry of failure, of failing the men and women.”

Mr. Pérez’s physique sat in a freezer at the Caracas morgue, with two bullet wounds and a cracked mandible, beneath armed guard. On Sunday, the government released the corpse, which was buried naked, except for a white sheet wrapped about it. Near the funeral, a man flew a kite that said “Liberty.”

Aura Pérez, left, the aunt of Óscar Pérez, walking toward his grave website. She claimed his physique from the morgue because she is his closest family members member nevertheless in Venezuela.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Instances

Mr. Pérez was an actor, a detective and an insurgent. To the government he was a terrorist. To his followers he was a freedom fighter, a modern day folk hero in the ilk of Robin Hood or Che Guevara. Some skeptics stated his story was as well improbable to be correct — they mused that he need to have been a double agent of some sort, meant to cast the opposition in a negative light.

Even so people viewed him, his actions resonated across the whole nation.

Venezuela has suffered from an economic crisis that has left hospitals without medicine and babies dying of malnutrition. An unpopular president has put down protests with an iron fist, leaving far more than one hundred dead on the streets of Caracas final year amongst police and protesters. Couple of seem to hold out hope for democracy in Venezuela.

Following his helicopter flight above Caracas in June, Mr. Pérez became an avatar of the nation’s mounting grievances: He was the daring cop who had defected and asked other individuals to do the identical.

But if there is one issue that would haunt him to the grave, it was that the rebellion by no means came.

“We wanted there to be a contact to the streets that day, there to be massive displays, that the men and women realized there a movement had started,” he stated in 1 of his messages. “But sadly, there wasn’t 1.”

Mr. Pérez, who joined the investigative unit of the Venezuelan police 15 years ago, may well have been just yet another detective if it hadn’t been for his acting. The film he starred in, “Suspended Death,” or “Muerte Suspendida” in Spanish, was released in 2015. He plays an inspector named Efraín Robles who rescues a Venezuelan businessman from kidnappers.

He mentioned the idea to act in the film had come to him soon after a police operation in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, exactly where he met a young man on the verge of joining a gang. Mr. Pérez saw no way of speaking him out of crime, but noticed how influenced the young man was by what he saw on tv.

“He literally forgot his hunger watching Tv,” he stated. “It was there you see the wonderful energy of audiovisual mediums, of motion pictures.”

The film foreshadows the theatrics Mr. Pérez would turn into recognized for in real life. His character — also a pilot — chases criminals by way of the streets of the capital from the air, and in the finale, he scuba dives with a rifle to the yacht of the villain.

Mr. Pérez stated the movie also showed the kind of police force that he wished had existed in Venezuela: Mug shots displayed on high-tech screens. Crime scenes meticulously dusted by forensics professionals. Guys in lab coats analyzing the benefits.

Nicol Di­az, 17, correct, and Jose Diaz, 13, center, weep more than the grave of their father, Jose Alejandro Diaz Pimentel, a rebel killed alongside Mr. Pérez in a fight with government forces.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Instances

But the reality he lived as the country’s economy collapsed was much diverse, Mr. Pérez said. “There have been no sources left,” he stated. “The technicians operating the gear had to buy their own supplies just to operate.”

Other developments began to unnerve him.

Pro-government armed groups, known as colectivos, started to operate openly with corrupt police officers to extort and steal. Investigations had been blocked, like into shipments of cocaine that Mr. Pérez says he repeatedly uncovered. He was told to turn the other way, he stated. His account of corruption inside the police force could not be independently verified.

“They had been the ones trafficking the drugs,” Mr. Pérez said of government officials.

Amongst them, he stated, was Néstor Reverol, now the country’s interior and justice minister. (Mr. Reverol faces indictment in the United States for allegedly calling off investigations into drug traffickers although he led the National Guard.)

Mr. Pérez mentioned he had extended believed of utilizing a helicopter to make his dissent identified. But final year, his anger joined with that of thousands of other Venezuelans who took to the streets in the course of four months of bloody protests against President Nicolás Maduro. Mr. Pérez said he blamed Mr. Maduro and his administration for what had befallen Venezuela: the shortages, the corruption and the country’s rising crime.

The week before he commandeered the helicopter, Mr. Pérez’s brother was killed by gangsters in a cellphone robbery, he mentioned. They stabbed him to death two blocks from home.

“I had to recognize my brother laid out in the morgue on a steel tray fully frozen,” he stated. “You’re a policeman and you see a person so close to you die in this crime scourge triggered by this negative government.”

On June 27, Mr. Pérez took off in the helicopter, saying it was time to set a public instance for Venezuelans.

There had been clear skies above Caracas when the explosions sounded: They had been from stun grenades thrown out of the helicopter, and they have been meant to generate focus without having causing harm, Mr. Pérez mentioned. Then he piloted the helicopter to the Interior Ministry developing, where he fired blanks.

As a crowd looked up at the spectacle unfolding in the sky, Mr. Pérez unfurled a banner calling on these below to rebel.

Mourners pay their final respects at the graves of José Alejandro Díaz Pimentel and Abraham Agostini, both killed in the fight with government forces.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Occasions

“It was meant as a wake-up call that they shouldn’t shed hope,” he mentioned. “And not just to the individuals but also to the public workers that they wake up as effectively.”

The events stunned the nation. For a time, numerous wondered no matter whether a coup was underway. But Mr. Pérez was acting only with a tiny band, and opposition parties did not take up his call.

When the helicopter suffered a hydraulic failure, he mentioned, he was forced to make an emergency landing in a field. Residents named the authorities, but he got away before they arrived.

He was now a fugitive — but he had the country’s full attention.

On Instagram, he posted images of himself and other guys armed with stolen rifles, normally in groups of four to ten. Three weeks following the attack he made a brazen public look, speaking at an anti-government rally, repeating a message which became increasingly admonishing in tone.

“We have to recover the values and ethics and the customs of this country,” he shouted that day to television cameras. “It’s our conviction, our legacy. If you are ready, then we will be ready as well — to defend this country!”

But his calls for the folks to rise up seemed to be falling on deaf ears. On July 30, Mr. Maduro further consolidated his power, creating a physique of loyalists to dismiss the country’s legislature, the only branch of government his celebration didn’t control.

The streets had been militarized and public dissent was banned by presidential orders. The protests evaporated practically completely.

Mr. Pérez’s path would be a lot more isolated from then on. He described a band of about 50 males who followed him, typically dispersed into smaller sized groups and education in protected houses. The number of followers Mr. Pérez stated he had could not be independently verified.

With Mr. Pérez out of the public eye, the government painted a image of a unsafe rebel band that it said tried to kill people that day at the Supreme Court. Mr. Maduro would regularly say that they and the opposition were plotting terrorist acts to bring the nation to civil war.

Government security forces block mourners from entering the burial internet site of José Alejandro Díaz Pimentel and Abraham Agostini.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

The accusations irked Mr. Pérez to the end. “If we had wanted to kill an individual that day, we would have already completed it,” he mentioned.

Even as the authorities closed in on Mr. Pérez this month, he was confident he would continue to outsmart them. “We’re always one step ahead of them, thanks to the individuals who are helping us, my intelligence team that’s inside the institutions,” he stated.

Just before going to bed the night of his death, Mr. Pérez messaged The Instances once more.

“Lovely, I’ll let you know,” he said, referring to setting a time for the next interview. It was 12:45 a.m.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Mr. Pérez posted a video to his Instagram account. Government troops had identified him.

At initial no shots are heard on the video. Mr. Pérez calls out to a military key who stands outdoors, telling the rebel to give up, saying that the state has won. Mr. Pérez says he won’t surrender because he fears they will kill civilians in the constructing.

Absolutely everyone appears calm. But the videos quickly show a scene of chaos.

Óscar Pérez was killed on Monday following authorities cornered him in his hideout outdoors of Caracas. He had uploaded a number of videos on social media in the hours ahead of his death saying that he wanted to surrender.Published OnCreditImage by Inaki Zugasti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Photos

Mr. Pérez appears into his phone, blood streaming into his proper eye. He urges Venezuelans to take to the streets right away. Bullet holes mark the wall and gunshots are heard in the background. He says that he is supplying to surrender but that the government is launching grenades.

In a single video, Mr. Pérez concedes that his time is up.

“May God be with us and could Jesus Christ accompany me,” he says. “Derek, Santiago, Sebastian, I really like you with all my heart, sons. I hope to see you soon once again.”

Later that morning, Venezuela’s government stated the group had been “dismantled.” Mr. Pérez and six other people there had been dead. Two police officers have been killed, officials mentioned.

Mr. Pérez’s death, shown on Instagram, transfixed Venezuela, making his final moments his final public spectacle. And virtually like in a film, the threads of the life that had led him to rebellion seemed to come with each other one last time.

Mr. Réverol, the official who Mr. Pérez had said once blocked him from stopping drug traffickers, was amongst the initial to declare victory. He referred to as Mr. Pérez’s group “a harmful gang that in current months launched terrorist attacks.”

Mr. Pérez’s body, bloodied and nonetheless wearing a vest, was hauled to the morgue. There it sat, not far from the spot exactly where he had identified the corpse of his brother the year before — and produced up his thoughts that it was at final time to act.

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Published at Mon, 22 Jan 2018 01:57:24 +0000


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