Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaidó said on Wednesday that intelligence agents had detained his deputy, the first arrest of a lawmaker since Guaidó tried to spark a military uprising last week to bring down socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the nation’s duly elected National Assembly National Assembly, said on Twitter that agents from the SEBIN intelligence agency were using a tow truck to drag his vehicle, with him inside, to one of their Caracas bases.
On Tuesday, the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, which was called into existence by Maduro to rewrite the country’s 18-year-old constitution, ruled to strip Zambrano and six other lawmakers, of their parliamentary immunity to allow their future prosecution.
The Supreme Court, which is criticized for being stacked with Maduro’s supporters, had earlier accused the lawmakers of conspiracy, rebellion, and treason, and on Wednesday accused three other pro-Guaidó legislators of the same crimes. The U.S. government this week threatened to sanction all Supreme Court members.
Guaidó lead more mass protests last week, calling for the people of Venezuela to kick Maduro out and return the country to the people. The United States also announced more sanctions against the Maduro regime. Maduro decried the events as an attempted coup.
“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested,” Diosdado Cabello, head of Maduro’s Constituent Assembly, said in comments broadcast on state television. “They will have to pay before the courts for the failed coup that they attempted,” he said.
Zambrano said on Twitter that SEBIN agents had surrounded his vehicle by the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas’ La Florida district.
“We were surprised by the SEBIN, and after refusing to let us leave our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly transfer us directly to the (SEBIN headquarters) Helicoide,” he said. It was not yet clear if Zambrano was already at the Helicoide.
“The regime has kidnapped the first vice president,” Guaidó said on Twitter.
Guaidó in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Maduro as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent. The Constituent Assembly removed Guaidó’s parliamentary immunity in early April, but authorities have not tried to arrest him since then.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s head, Maikel Moreno, rebuffed the U.S. government’s threats to sanction his court’s members if they did not reject Maduro’s government and Guaidó.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions in 2017 on Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s constitutional chamber for rulings that “usurped the authority” of the National Assembly.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that the Trump administration would soon sanction the 25 remaining members of the court. Pence said on Tuesday that the United States was lifting economic sanctions on a former Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro in order to encourage other Maduro allies to follow suit.