Venezue­lan con­gress leader briefly de­tained

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - FABI­OLA SANCHEZ AND JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

CARA­CAS, VENEZUELA — The new head of Venezuela’s in­creas­ingly de­fi­ant con­gress was pulled from his ve­hi­cle and briefly de­tained by po­lice Sun­day, a day after the U.S. backed him as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency as a way out of the coun­try’s deep­en­ing cri­sis.

The con­fus­ing in­ci­dent, which drew swift in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion, is bound to ramp up ten­sions be­tween the op­po­si­tion and gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s swear­ing in for a con­tro­ver­sial sec­ond term this month.

A video cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia pur­ports to show the mo­ment in which Juan Guaido is in­ter­cepted on his way to an antigov­ern­ment town hall meet­ing in the port city of La Guaira.

In the video shot on a cell­phone by a mo­torist, sev­eral men in ski masks and car­ry­ing as­sault weapons are seen strug­gling to shut the door on some­one be­ing pushed into an SUV be­fore rac­ing down a high­way.

While it was not pos­si­ble to iden­tify Guaido in the 33-sec­ond video, his wife, Fabi­ana Ros­ales, said on Twit­ter that he had been de­tained by a com­mando unit of the feared SE­BIN in­tel­li­gence po­lice. As news of his de­ten­tion spread, he was then re­leased.

“We are go­ing to ful­fil our con­sti­tu­tional du­ties,” Guaido said to a group of cheer­ing sup­port­ers at the rally. “We are sur­vivors — not vic­tims, and we are go­ing to move this coun­try for­ward.”

Adding to the con­fu­sion, the gov­ern­ment tried to shift the blame to Guaido’s al­lies, with Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Jorge Ro­driguez say­ing that the “me­dia show” had per­haps been or­ches­trated to pro­voke an up­roar.

Still, he ac­knowl­edged that po­lice of­fi­cers had par­took in the ar­rest and said they would be dis­ci­plined.

“We want to in­form the peo­ple of Venezuela that the of­fi­cials who took that upon them­selves are be­ing dis­missed,” Ro­driguez said on state TV.

A coali­tion of 13 Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries and Canada con­demned Guaido’s “ar­bi­trary” de­ten­tion tar­get­ing the head of the Na­tional Assem­bly. In a state­ment, the Lima Group re­jected any “pres­sure or co­er­cion that pre­vents the full and nor­mal ex­er­cise of their pow­ers as an or­gan con­sti­tu­tion­ally and le­git­i­mately elected in Venezuela.”

At the rally Sun­day after the in­ci­dent, Guaido told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the SE­BIN agents in­formed him they were car­ry­ing out or­ders from above when they ar­rested him.

“They tried to put me in hand­cuffs,” he told the crowd of a few hun­dred wav­ing Venezue­lan flags. “But I didn’t let them be­cause I’m pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Assem­bly.”

Guaido has been lead­ing an in­creas­ingly tense stand­off with Maduro seek­ing to oust the so­cial­ist from power, win­ning the sup­port of some pow­er­ful in­ter­na­tional al­lies like U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, who spoke to him by phone shortly after the 35-year-old as­sumed the pres­i­dency of the op­po­si­tion­con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly.

At a rally Fri­day he said he was pre­pared to take over as Venezuela’s in­terim pres­i­dent and call for new elec­tions, a move the U.S. and re­gional gov­ern­ments sup­port.

But for such a strat­egy to suc­ceed, he said Venezue­lans must take to the streets to ex­press their dis­con­tent with Maduro’s han­dling of what was once Latin Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est na­tion. To that end, he called for na­tion­wide de­mon­stra­tions on Jan. 23 to co­in­cide with the an­niver­sary of the 1958 oust­ing of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Mar­cos Perez Jimenez.

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