First Reported Drone Attack on Head of State: The Venezuelan Case


According to press reports, two drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on August 4, 2018, in an apparent assassination attempt that took place while he was delivering a speech to hundreds of soldiers, while the speech was being broadcast live on television.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro escaped an “attack” when multiple drones carrying explosives detonated near him as he gave a speech at a military ceremony Saturday, his government say, adding seven soldiers were wounded.

According to an article by Juan Forero and  Kejal Vyas published in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Maduro, standing beside his wife Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky momentarily as he was promising that “the hour of the economic recuperation” had arrived. His speech ended abruptly, and the broadcast then panned to the face of a young soldier before focusing on the street in front of a makeshift stand where Mr. Maduro had been standing.

Soldiers, who had been standing at attention, could be seen scrambling. In the midst of the confusion, a voice could be heard saying, “Let’s go to the right.”

Scholars who closely follow Venezuelan politics said Mr. Maduro could use the incident to detain foes and tighten his grip on the military. “It’s standard practice for their government to use any public disturbance to crack down further,” said Eric Farnsworth, head of the Washington office of the Council of the Americas.

Some analysts suggested that Saturday’s incident could have been staged by the government for that purpose. They noted that throughout 19 years of rule, Mr. Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chávez frequently claimed to have uncovered plots to depose them without offering details. But Harold A. Trinkunas, deputy director of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said the images of soldiers running and people onstage being startled were “both dramatic and unfavorable to Maduro.”

“If you wanted an excuse for repression, I think the government would have chosen something that would not make Maduro appear as vulnerable,” he said.

Oleg Vornik, DroneShield’s Chief Executive Officer, commented “The history of commercial drone incidents involving heads of state goes back to September 2013 when the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s public appearance was disrupted by a drone, which was apparently a publicity stunt by a competing political party.

“Yesterday’s apparent drone assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Maduro is the first known drone attack on a head of state. An attempted drone assassination of a sitting sovereign leader demonstrates that, sadly, the era of drone terrorism has well and truly arrived.”