Venezuelan opposition head briefly held
Video allegedly shows gunmen taking Guaido
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 this month for a second term.
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 La Guaira.
In the video shot on a cellphone by a motorist, several armed men in ski masks 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 fulfill 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 blame, with Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez saying that the “media show” had perhaps been orchestrated to provoke an international uproar.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Venezuela’s security forces to uphold their citizens’ constitutional rights. “The U.S. and the world are watching,” he said.
A coalition of 13 Latin American countries and Canada condemned Guaido’s “arbitrary” detention. 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. “But I didn’t let them because I’m president of the National Assembly.”
National Assembly President Juan Guaido, top left, is surrounded Sunday by bodyguards as he leaves an opposition rally in Caraballeda, Venezuela. The U.S. has backed the idea of him assuming the presidency to end the country’s deepening crisis.