Maduro cracks down

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion lead­ers dragged from beds, im­pris­oned

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - Michael Weis­senstein

CARACAS — Teams of heav­ily armed se­cu­rity agents seized two of Venezuela’s top op­po­si­tion lead­ers from their homes in the mid­dle of the night Tues­day, drag­ging one into the street in his py­ja­mas as Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment de­fied U.S. sanc­tions and in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion of a plan to as­sume nearly un­lim­ited pow­ers.

Leopoldo Lopez and An­to­nio Ledezma were be­ing held at the Ramo Verde mil­i­tary prison south of the cap­i­tal, ac­cused by the gov­ern­ment-al­lied Supreme Court of vi­o­lat­ing the terms of their house ar­rest by plot­ting to es­cape and re­leas­ing video state­ments crit­i­ciz­ing Maduro.

Both men’s al­lies de­nied the charges and vowed to con­tinue to try to push the rul­ing party from power. But they gave lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of how they planned to do that, and the cap­i­tal was un­usu­ally quiet af­ter months of some­times vi­o­lent protests.

While the U.S. and some Latin Amer­i­can al­lies con­demned the ar­rests, many other na­tions and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions were silent or lim­ited them­selves to ex­pres­sions of con­cern.

Lopez’s sup­port­ers re­leased a video he taped last week say­ing he ex­pected to be im­pris­oned again soon, and call­ing on Venezue­lans to be firm in re­sist­ing Maduro.

“If you are look­ing at this video now, it’s pre­cisely be­cause that oc­curred, be­cause they came and they il­le­gally im­pris­oned me again un­justly, a pris­oner of con­scious­ness, a pris­oner for my ideas, a pris­oner for want­ing a bet­ter Venezuela,” the 46-yearold Lopez said.

He also said his wife, Lil­ian Tin­tori, is preg­nant. He called the preg­nancy “the best news I’ve re­ceived in the last 3½ years” — the time he spent be­hind bars be­fore be­ing re­leased to house ar­rest last month. The cou­ple had been al­lowed some con­ju­gal vis­its.

Many hu­man rights groups con­sid­ered Lopez to be a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

Ledezma, 62, was also de­tained in 2015 and has been un­der house ar­rest.

Like Lopez, he had re­cently posted a video de­nounc­ing the vote.

Shortly af­ter mid­night, black-clad mem­bers of Venezuela’s state se­cu­rity force forced Ledezma from his east Caracas home in his blue py­ja­mas, yank­ing him out into the night as a woman screamed for help.

“They’re tak­ing Ledezma!” the woman can be heard cry­ing on a cell­phone video re­leased by Ledezma’s al­lies. “It’s a dic­ta­tor­ship!”

Lopez’s wife posted se­cu­rity-cam­era video of him be­ing taken from their home and bun­dled into a wait­ing car.

AP files

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez holds a na­tional flag as he greets sup­port­ers out­side his home in Caracas, Venezuela, fol­low­ing his re­lease from prison af­ter more than three years in mil­i­tary lockup. In­set, An­to­nio Ledezma was also re­ar­rested.

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