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Activist Abducted in Venezuela Is Latest in String of Political Prisoners

Venezuelan secret police Monday kidnapped Popular Will Party opposition leader and 2008 Milton Friedman Prize winner Yon Goicoechea from his car after he left his home.

The Popular Will Party is the largest opposition party in Venezuela and other party activists have been kidnapped by the government earlier this year. The kidnapping was first announced by David Smolansky, the mayor of El Hatillo, a municipality of Caracas, on Twitter: “[He] was kidnapped at 9:30 a.m. by an armed group. He’s missing!”

Venezuelan National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful person in the country, publicly announced that the government had arrested Goicoechea on the claim that he was carrying explosives.

In a nationwide television broadcast, Cabello referred to the $500,000 Friedman Prize award that Goicoechea received as evidence that Goicoechea was some sort of foreign-employed agent bent on terrorism. “Today a man named Yon Goicoechea was detained and cords used for detonating explosives were found in his possession,” said Cabello. “It looks like his money ran out and he wants to come here to seek blood. They gave him the order there in the United States.”

The kidnapping was in advance of a major anti-socialist protest in Caracas planned for September 1. The so-called “taking of Caracas” on this Thursday plans to demand a recall referendum vote this year to oust President Nicolás Maduro, amid the country’s political and economic crisis, which has caused inflation, food shortages and high levels of violent crime. Critics say the arrests and the claims that opposition leaders are foreign agents is an attempt by a failing regime to scapegoat political rivals and blame them for a disastrous economic crisis.

President Cabello has been under investigation for over a year, along with a number of Venezuelan government officials, by U.S. federal prosecutors for running a narco-terrorism cartel, which one investigator says funds Venezuela’s ruling socialist party but also funds people in the Cuban regime as well as elements of Hezbollah. The Obama regime has as yet filed no charges.

Venezuela’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” has produced shortages of everything from food and water, to medicine and electricity. Hunger is becoming widespread, the rate of violence is among the worst in the world, and the regime has become extremely unpopular.

As of late 2015, 70 opposition leaders, including the mayor of Caracas, had been imprisoned. Reports of shortages and long lines for everything from food to funerals have fallen to absurd levels of gruesomeness, with families waiting days to be able to bury loved ones and women giving birth in breadlines, unable to leave the queue for fear of losing their place when their cupboards at home are bare.

Goicoechea won the Friedman Prize in 2008 for having led the student movement that played the central role in defeating the constitutional reform that would have given Hugo Chavez an unprecedented concentration of political and economic power.

One of Goicoechea’s and the student movement’s central tenets is their advocacy of non-violence in the promotion of basic freedoms and democracy. Goicoechea had offered an optimistic vision about the future and potential of his country, in contrast with the regime’s reliance on repression and force.

The Friedman Prize, named after free market economist and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, is given “to an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom,” and has no conditions attached to it. It has been awarded to numerous freedom champions from around the world including prominent reformers and human rights and freedom of speech advocates.

The government has not said exactly where Goicoechea is being held or under what conditions (though his supporters believe he is in a cell at the headquarters of the secret police in Caracas). In his last tweet, on the day of the kidnapping, Mayor Smolansky expressed concern that Goicoechea may have been executed. Smolansky’s twitter updates ended Tuesday and he did not tweet on Wednesday.

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