Rogue arrest of US pick to replace Maduro
CARACAS: The president of the opposition-controlled but sidelined National Assembly was detained by Venezuelan intelligence agents for about an hour yesterday, a day after the US backed him assuming the presidency as a way out of the country’s crisis.
But President Nicolas Maduro’s government denied any knowledge of the operation.
“We have learned that there was a situation in which a group of officials acting in a unilateral manner conducted an irregular procedure,” said Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez. He said officers from the SEBIN intelligence service “are being dismissed and subjected to a stricter disciplinary procedure” after having provoked a “media circus”.
Following his release, Juan Guaido was met by hundreds of supporters at the rally he had been heading to when he was intercepted on a highway by armed and hooded men in two Venezuelan intelligence service vehicles. He was detained while travelling to Caraballeda, 40km from the capital, Caracas. “They forced us to get out. They did not hit him, but they told us they had to proceed with his immediate arrest,” his wife Fabiana Rosales said.
“The dictatorship cannot break his fighting spirit.”
Mr Guaido had directly challenged the legitimacy of Mr Maduro as the president was sworn in for a second term on Friday, calling the next day for a transitional government ahead of new elections.
“So Maduro no longer controls the armed forces because the chain of command was broken,” Mr Guaido told the rally in Caraballeda. “Who is commanding the regime now? If they’re already admitting that they don’t control the state’s security agencies, there’s a serious problem at Miraflores (presidential palace).”
Mr Maduro dismissed what he called “hatred” and “lies”. “Nobody should become hooked on hatred and on lies. We are going to get hooked on Venezuela’s prosperity,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the “arbitrary” detention. “We call on security forces to uphold the constitution and rights of the Venezuelan people. The US and world are watching,” he tweeted.
Mr Maduro was re-elected in May in a vote boycotted by the opposition, whose best known leaders were barred from running, under house arrest or in exile.
The outcome was widely criticised as marred by fraud and voter intimidation, with the US, EU and Organisation of American States refusing to recognise it.
Mr Maduro, though, retains the support of the military high command, which reiterated its “loyalty” to him last week.
As part of his call for the military to sever ties with Mr Maduro, Mr Guaido said the assembly would pass an amnesty law for military members imprisoned for conspiracy.
Mr Maduro is blamed for the country’s economic crisis, with basic food and medicine scarce and hyperinflation estimated to reach 10 million per cent this year.
Juan Guaido and wife Fabiana Rosales at yesterday’s rally