Venezuelan opposition leaders taken to prison
Masked government agents remove two from their homes.
Masked Venezuelan government agents took two well-known opposition figures from their homes early Tuesday, according to family members, in a crackdown against government opponents after a contentious vote over the weekend to change the country’s constitution.
The two opposition leaders taken away were Leopoldo López, a former mayor of a wealthy Caracas district who in early July was transferred to house arrest from prison, where he had been serving a sentence of more than 13 years, and Antonio Ledezma, another former mayor under house arrest.
In a grainy video posted to Ledezma’s Twitter account, uniformed men in black helmets can be seen dragging a man in pajamas out of a building and into a vehicle.
“They are taking away Ledezma! Look we are recording it all here!” screams a woman in the background, as the man is forced into a car that speeds away.
A second video, posted early Tuesday on the Twitter account of López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, shows another man being removed by officials. “The moment the dictatorship kidnapped Leopoldo in my house,” Tintori wrote in the post.
The two opposition leaders were taken to prison two days after a vote to install a new body in Venezuela, called a constituent assembly, with powers to rewrite the constitution. The body gives virtually unlimited power to the country’s governing leftist party, and it has the power to dismiss or dismantle any branch of government while rewriting the country’s governing charter.
On Monday, President Nicolás Maduro signaled that he would crack down on his opponents, declaring that some of them “would end up in jail.”
A statement issued by the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that officials had received “information that revealed an escape plan” by Ledezma and López. It also said the two had violated the terms of their house arrest by making political statements.
The developments came just hours after the United States issued sanctions on Maduro, freezing any U.S. assets he owns, among other measures, for rights abuses and undermining democracy.
Washington called on the Venezuelan president to release political prisoners from the opposition, and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin called him a “dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.”
The seizing of the two men represents an aboutface for the government, particularly in the case of López, who was released from military prison and placed under house arrest after a surprise decision on July 8. Some speculated that the early morning developments would reinvigorate the opposition’s push against Maduro.
In late July, López released a short video from his home, urging the government to release political prisoners and accept humanitarian aid, and he called on his followers to join demonstrations and a national strike against the vote on the constituent assembly. However, he steered clear of more aggressive calls to action that he had been known for in the past.
A lawyer for López, Jared Genser, confirmed his arrest but did not comment further.
Early Tuesday, Ledezma’s daughter Oriette Ledezma posted a video on Twitter in which she criticized the government for her father’s arrest.
Anti-government demonstrators attend a vigil Monday in honor of those killed in clashes with security forces in Caracas, Venezuela.