BOGOTA, Colombia—Venezuela’s intelligence agency detained the vice president of the opposition-run National Assembly on the evening of May 8 as part of a crackdown on those involved in last week’s failed uprising.
Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly and leader of the opposition to Nicolás Maduro’s regime, denounced the detention and called for international support. The United States has threatened “consequences” for Maduro and his regime should Guaidó’s deputy be harmed, or not be released immediately.
Intelligence agents stopped Edgar Zambrano in Caracas and towed him away in his car to the notorious Helicoide prison, in the first political arrest since Guaidó attempted to overthrow the Maduro regime last week with a military uprising.
The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela has called the arrest “illegal and inexcusable.” The Embassy said on Twitter that “Maduro and his accomplices are directly responsible for the security of Zambrano. If he is not released immediately, there will be consequences.”
Guaidó invoked the constitution to appoint himself interim president in January, on the basis that Maduro’s election was fraudulent. Since then, more than 50 countries, including the United States and some of Latin America’s largest countries, have recognized Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader and supported his efforts to dislodge the dictator.
Guaidó denounced Zambrano’s detention and called on the help of the international community to halt any further clampdown on the democratically elected National Assembly.
“We have alerted our international allies to the intention of shutting down the national parliament through the mass arrest of deputies,” he said, in a tweet on the eve of Zambrano’s arrest. “With these measures, the dictatorship will not make its internal rupture disappear, nor can it stop the inevitable.”
The detention has stoked fears that Maduro is seeking to end the opposition that remains determined to unseat him.
Although Guaidó led the failed uprising to overthrow Maduro through military defections on April 30—and had his immunity stripped in April—arresting him maybe a provocation too far for the United States, leaving Maduro’s regime to target his close allies instead.
On May 9, opposition lawmaker Richard Blanco sought refuge in Argentina’s Caracas Embassy following his colleague’s arrest. Blanco is one of 10 opposition lawmakers who were stripped of parliamentary immunity by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court on May 7, for alleged crimes such as conspiracy, rebellion, and treason, potentially paving the way for their imminent arrest.
The United States slapped sanctions on the court’s president and seven members of the supreme court back in 2017 for violating the authority of the National Assembly. On May 7, Vice President Mike Pence warned that the remaining members could be hit with sanctions as well should they not withdraw their support for Maduro.
Americo de Grazia, deputy for the State of Bolívar—and one of the deputies stripped of their immunity this week—said regime’s efforts to forcibly silence opposition members only highlights its growing weakness.
“The government is effectively trapped with no way out and that has made it a wounded animal … we can see the regime’s fear and fracturing,” the National Assembly member told The Epoch Times. “What happened last night [May 8] with Edgar Zambrano was an attack against the legitimate institution accepted by the whole world. They cannot overcome the political initiative that Juan Guaidó has as interim president.”
De Grazia said the opposition would continue working to remove Maduro from power despite growing security risks, taking further precautions as the Maduro regime becomes “further isolated” and thus “more dangerous.”
There are currently more than 900 political prisoners being held in Venezuela, according to human rights NGO Foro Penal.
The country remains in economic and political crisis, with even the most basic of goods widely unavailable due to shortages, or unaffordable due to rampant hyperinflation of over 2 million percent. Close to 4 million people have fled the country in recent years, according to the World Bank.
The latest crisis of persistent rolling blackouts and water shortages have reignited mass anti-government protests, to which Maduro has responded to by calling on paramilitary gangs loyal to his regime to violently quash public discontent.