Venezuelan congress leader briefly detained
CARACAS (AP) — 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 anti-government town hall meeting in the port city of La Guaira.
In the video shot on a cellphone by a motorist stuck in traffic, 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 identi- fy 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 fulfill our constitutional duties,” Guaido said 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 international 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.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Venezuela’s security forces to uphold its citizens’ constitutional rights, singling out Intelligence Chief Manuel Cristopher Figuera. “The U.S. and the world are watching,” Pompeo tweeted.
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.”
Juan Guaido, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and lawmaker of the opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), speaks during a gathering in La Guaira, Venezuela, Sunday. The new head of Venezuela’s increasingly defiant congress was pulled from his vehicle and briefly detained by police, a day after the U.S. backed him assuming the presidency as a way out of the country's deepening crisis.