Caracas Mayor’s Arrest Met with Regional Condemnation

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has accused Antonio Ledezma, María Corina Machado and Leopoldo López of fomenting a coup. (atodomomento)

EspañolFollowing the arrest of opposition politician and mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and after over 10 hours of waiting by his family, his lawyer revealed early on Friday, February 20, that Ledezama was under arrest in the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

The mayor’s family were able to visit the official on Friday morning in the Helicoide — a giant commercial center in central Caracas, developed in the 1950s, which was never finished and later converted into SEBIN’s command center. Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, his wife, told press: “we found him with his position firm, and he asked us to continue moving forward.”

The Public Ministry also announced that prosecutors Katherine Harington and Yeison Moreno are to charge Ledezma with conspiracy to organize and carry out violent activities “against the democratically constituted government.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro meanwhile made a radio and television address in which he criticized opposition politicians and businessmen, and announced that the mayor of Caracas had been arrested and would be investigated “so that he responds for all the crimes committed against the peace of the country, security, and the Constitution.”

Maduro offered no further details about Ledezma’s alleged crimes, although his arrest follows a week after the Venezuelan government publicly denounced an alleged abortive coup d’etat, in which Deputy Julio Borges and Ledezma were allegedly implicated.

“Distraction” Ploy

Maduro also accused the US government and its embassy in Venezuela of supporting the purported uprising, and of financing the Venezuelan opposition in order to “destabilize” his administration.

The White House subsequently described the accusations as “false” in a statement released on the State Department’s website. “The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false,” read the statement by spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Psaki further called on Venezuela to “stop attempting to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among Venezuelans.”

In a press conference broadcast online, opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) Secretary General Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba complained of an “information blackout” due to Maduro’s speech being broadcast on the national channel during Ledezma’s arrest, preventing media from reporting on the armed raid which detained the public official.

Regional Condemnation

Political leaders, writers, journalists, and activists from within Venezuela and overseas denounced Ledezma’s arrest and many took to social media to criticize the actions of Maduro’s government:
“The Maduro government has shown that, though inept in everything else, its hand doesn’t tremble when it comes to imprisoning the opposition.”

“What else is needed before the governments of #LatinAmerica lift their voice against violations of #HumanRights in #Venezuela?”

“I would like to express my repudiation and concern for the arbitrary detention that my colleague and friend Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledzema has suffered.”

“The brutal arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledzema must be repudiated by all democrats, including governments, [and] with great force by Chile.”

The general secretariat of the Union of Ibero-American Capital Cities (UCCI) meanwhile called on the Venezuelan authorities to respect Ledezma’s constitutional rights.

The UCCI headed by Mayors Ana Botella (Madrid) and Mauricio Macri (Buenos Aires) issued a statement registering their concern over their fellow mayor’s arrest, reiterating the importance of protecting constitutional guarantees such as freedom and security of person.

In Colombia, conservative politicians also issued a statement demanding that President Juan Manuel Santos convene the Organization of American States (OAS) in defense of human rights in Venezuela.

Former minister Marta Lucía Ramírez said: “We ask president Juan Manuel Santos that he convokes the Permanent Council of the OAS to defend democracy and the human rights of all Venezuelans, and put a halt to the abuse and violations of human rights against the opposition.”

Ramírez cited the OEA’s Democratic Charter, noting that it “recognizes the right to democracy enjoyed by all American peoples and the obligation of governments to promote and defend it. Colombia, as a supporter of this Charter and human rights under the government of former President [Andrés] Pastrana must speak out.”

The Venezuelan Mayors’ Association also raised their voice. Opposition town and city council leaders argued that Ledezma’s detention took place without any judicial order, describing it as “arbitrary and illegal,” and calling for his immediate release.

In a statement, the group of local elected officials told “the entire Venezuelan people that none of these arbitrary deeds intimidate us nor will make us hide our democratic convictions and the dream of achieving a country of justice and peace for all Venezuelans.”

33 Mayors Face Charges

Sucre municipal Mayor Carlos Ocariz told press that at least 33 opposition mayors in Venezuela are currently facing judicial charges, noting reports that SEBIN was seeking the arrest of another opposition leader.

Lawyer Gonzalo Himiob suggested that the arrest of the Caracas mayor brought the total figure of those arrested for political motives under Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez to 98. Sixty-two have been placed behind bars since the beginning of 2014, Himiob specified via Twitter.

“#20F With the arrest of Mayor Antonio Ledezma the total figure of people behind bars for political reasons rises to 98. They’re 62 more since 2014.”

Call to Demonstration

Over Twitter and in a formal press conference, the leadership of Ledezma’s Alianza Bravo Pueblo alliance joined other opposition leaders and civil society representatives in showing its support for the mayor of Caracas, and calling for a demonstration in the capital’s Plaza Brión de Chacaíto on Friday morning.

“Today #20F All to Plaza Brion at 11:00. We demand the freedom “

On Thursday, February 19, at approximately the same time that a rumors of a fracas at the Ramo Verde military prison emerged, approximately 100 SEBIN officers were reported to be ransacking Ledzema’s office, and to have detained him without a judicial warrant.

Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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