Leader of Venezuelan congress is brief ly detained
Guaido, who has U.S. support, released after masked men pull him from car
CARACAS, Venezuela — The new head of Venezuela’s increasingly defiant congress was pulled from his vehicle and briefly detained by police Sunday.
The confusing incident, which drew swift international condemnation, was 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 purported to show the moment in which Juan Guaido was 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 stuck in traffic, several men in ski masks and carrying assault weapons were 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. After news of his detention spread, he was released.
“We are going to fulfill our constitutional duties,” Guaido told cheering supporters at the rally.
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 participated in the arrest and said they would be disciplined.
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 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who spoke to him by phone shortly after the 35-year-old assumed the presidency of the opposition-controlled 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.