Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido yesterday said intelligence agents had detained his chief of staff during a pre-dawn raid, a move by President Nicolas Maduro that the Trump administration said would “not go unanswered.”
Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.
He has been recognised by the US and dozens of other Western nations as the country’s legitimate leader.
Maduro, who has overseen a dramatic collapse of the Opec nation’s economy, has called Guaido a puppet of the US and said he should “face justice,” but has not explicitly ordered his arrest.
US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, called for the immediate release of Roberto Marrero.
“Maduro has made another big mistake,” Bolton said on Twitter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said earlier yesterday that “we will hold accountable those involved.”
Top US officials have repeatedly warned Maduro not to touch Guaido and his inner circle, but it is unclear what more they can do.
They have threatened ever harsher sanctions intended to further isolate Maduro and cut off his administration’s sources of revenue, but the humanitarian and political costs of further blanket measures could be high.
Millions of Venezuelans are already suffering shortages of food and medicine.
Guaido said the raids by agents from the SEBIN intelligence service on the residences of Marrero and another opposition legislator, Sergio Vergara, showed Maduro’s “weakness” and that attempts to intimidate him would not derail the opposition campaign.
“As they cannot take the interim president prisoner, so they seek out people closest to him, threaten relatives, carry out kidnappings,” Guaido told a news conference.
Marrero recorded a voice message as SEBIN agents were trying to enter his home in Caracas’ upscale Las Mercedes neighbourhood, which Guaido’s press team forwarded to reporters.
“I am in my house and the SEBIN is here. Unfortunately, they have come for me. Keep up the fight, don’t stop and look after (Guaido),” Marrero said.
Vergara, Marrero’s neighbour, said some 40 armed SEBIN agents forced their way into their homes and spent three hours inside. The SEBIN left with Marrero and Vergara’s driver, the legislator said in a video posted on his Twitter account.
Guaido said that Marrero had told Vergara that agents had planted two rifles and a grenade in his house.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since January, Venezuelan authorities have arrested over 1,000 people in connection with anti-government demonstrations, most of them arbitrarily, rights groups say.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that Venezuelan security forces, backed by pro-government militias, have quashed peaceful protests with an excessive use of force, killings and torture.
The UN human rights office yesterday tweeted its concern over Marrero’s detention and urged the government to respect due process and reveal his whereabouts.
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