Venezuela opposition leaders seized.
Two of Venezuela’s top opposition leaders are taken from their homes in the middle of the night.
Teams of heavily armed security agents seized two of Venezuela’s top opposition leaders from their homes in the middle of the night Tuesday in Caracas, dragging one into the street in his pajamas as President Nicolas Maduro’s government def ied U.S. sanctions and international condemnation of a plan to assume nearly unlimited powers.
Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were being held at the sprawling 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 United States 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 made last week saying he expected to be imprisoned again soon. It called 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,” said Lopez, 46.
He also said his wife, Lilian Tintori, is pregnant, touching her belly and saying he has “one more reason to fight for Venezuela.” 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.
Maduro appeared undeterred in his plans to seat a special assembly this week with powers to rewrite the country’s constitution and override any other branch of the Venezuelan government. He has threatened to use those powers to go after his opponents, and the arrests Tuesday appeared to show he was willing to proceed with full force.
He appears to have the full support of the country’s most important institutions, including the military, and Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez appeared on television Tuesday to affirm his loyalty to Maduro.
“We ask for respect for our democracy, for the way in which we have decided to take the road that we deserve to take in peace, in democracy, with tolerance, without violence and without heading toward a coup,” Padrino said.
Lopez was released from the Ramo Verde prison on July 8 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.
Ledezma, 62, was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest. Like Lopez, he also recently posted a video denouncing Sunday’s vote.
Shortly after midnight, black-clad members of Venezuela’s state security team forced Ledezma from his east Caracas home in his blue pajamas, 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.
“They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house,” Tintori wrote on Twitter. “We don’t know where he is or where they’re taking him.”
Attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez said the government’s decision to return Lopez to prison was “completely arbitrary” and said Lopez had obeyed the conditions imposed on his house arrest and never had plans to flee.
Tensions escalated in Venezuela after government-allied electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday and the turnout was disputed by the opposition and independent analysts and condemned by many nations in the region and beyond.
A journalist stands outside the house of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in Caracas on Tuesday, just hours after he was taken from his home by the intelligence service.
An image from cellphone footage showing Antonio Ledezma being taken from his home forcibly.