The attorney working for Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma has told a Venezuelan publication that his client was implicated in an alleged coup plot by a soldier who had been tortured into incriminating enemies of the state. Ledezma was arrested last week in a Secret Police (Sebin) raid of his office.
One day after thousands of Venezuelans flooded Caracas to protest the one-year anniversary of the arrest of Popular Will Party opposition leader Leopoldo López, around fifty armed officers stormed Ledezma’s office and, according to eyewitnesses, dragged him out and into prison “like a dog.” President Nicolás Maduro issued a three-hour national address on the night of February 19 accusing Ledezma of participating in a plot to overthrow his government.
In an interview with the publication La Verdad, Ledezma’s attorney, Omar Estacio, claimed that the man who had named Ledezma as a member of the conspiracy to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist government had been forced to incriminate him through torture. Retired Lt. Col. José Gustavo Arocha Pérez implicated Ledezma and another opposition politician, Julio Borges, in the conspiracy.
“This document of incrimination was written while [Arocha Pérez] was imprisoned, isolated in Sebin headquarters, in ‘The Tomb,’ which is to say he was tortured,” Estacio told La Verdad, referencing a Sebin facility nicknamed “The Tomb” in which political opposition members arrested for opposing the government have reportedly been placed in dark, cold isolation wards for extensive periods and left to develop physical and mental illnesses. Estacio noted that Arocha Pérez had been in The Tomb for six months before accusing Ledezma. “We are going to assert that this confession was obtained through torture,” he said.
Ledezma, the president of the anti-Chavista Fearless People’s Alliance, has been a longtime opponent of both President Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. In 2008, Chávez attempted to strip Ledezma of his powers as newly-elected mayor but failed, with Ledezma engaging in a hunger strike that forced the government to return his vested powers to him. As a longtime enemy of the socialist government, Ledezma had been a target on state programming for some time.
On February 13, six days before his arrest, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello– who also hosts a television program– cited the Arocha Pérez testimony on his program and accused Ledezma of being involved in a plot he nicknamed “Operation Gericho.” Cabello accused Ledezma not only of plotting a coup, but of planning the assassination of Leopoldo López in order to trigger mass unrest in the nation. State television repeated that accusation on the day of Ledezma’s arrest, though Ledezma has participated in many opposition events supporting López and no evidence outside of state media sources has corroborated this claim.