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World

Venezuelan President Asks FBI For Help After Surviving Assassination Attempt

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro regularly claims the U.S. government is trying to have him killed. Earlier this month, he survived an attack by a drone armed with explosives. And now he's asking the FBI to help find the culprits. Reporter John Otis has more.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The August 4 attack was captured by Venezuelan state TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

OTIS: Maduro can be seen addressing military troops in Caracas when he's interrupted by an explosion. Then sirens sound, and hundreds of soldiers run for cover. But the drones malfunctioned and exploded before they could reach the president, who was unhurt. Maduro blamed the attack on neighboring Colombia and on right-wing Venezuelans living in Miami, whom he claims are backed by U.S. financiers. As a result, Maduro claims that he needs the FBI to help investigate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In a televised speech over the weekend, Maduro said, I would accept its help. I would allow the FBI to come to Venezuela and participate in the investigation. Critics claim it's all a big smokescreen. Harold Trinkunas, a Venezuelan expert at Stanford University, says Maduro is more concerned about cracking down on the civilian political opposition, whose members deny any involvement in the assassination plot.

HAROLD TRINKUNAS: So they clearly are going to take advantage of this to increase the level of repression.

OTIS: Citing the drone attack, the Venezuelan police last week arrested Juan Requesens, a prominent opposition lawmaker. In addition, the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Julio Borges, the former head of Venezuela's congress. As for cooperation with the U.S., in recent years there's been almost none. Maduro claims that the U.S. is trying to sabotage his socialist government and has expelled numerous American diplomats from Caracas.

The Trump administration in turn calls Maduro a dictator and has placed sanctions on his government. It also blames Maduro for leading Venezuela into its deepest economic crisis in modern history. Food shortages and annual inflation that could reach 1,000,000 percent this year have prompted a flood of Venezuelans to flee the country. Speaking on last week's "Fox News Sunday," U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said he was open to lending a hand in the drone investigation but sounded skeptical.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

JOHN BOLTON: If the government of Venezuela has hard information that they want to present to us that would show a potential violation of U.S. criminal law, we'll take a serious look at it. But in the meantime, I think what we really should focus on is the corruption and the oppression of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

OTIS: On Monday, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. government would investigate any illegal activity inside its borders if provided credible evidence. For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAYBESHEWILL'S "WAKING LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.