Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion lead­ers taken to prison

Masked gov­ern­ment agents re­move two from their homes.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Ni­cholas Casey ©2017 The New York Times

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.

ARI­ANA CUBILLOS / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors at­tend a vigil Mon­day in honor of those killed in clashes with se­cu­rity forces in Cara­cas, Venezuela.

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