Venezuela: Maduro Seizes Airports as U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Defecting Police Chief

Maduro accuses US of financing mercenary 'plot' against him

The socialist regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela shut down three major private airports on Tuesday, shortly before announcing indictments against major opposition figures and amid a cloud of accusations that members of Maduro’s inner circle are ready to abandon him.

Last week, Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó – who Maduro has blocked from governing despite being legally the nation’s head of state – announced that he had convinced the military and its senior leadership to defect from Maduro and accept his leadership. Maduro refused to leave and most of his senior security officials denied that they had ever had conversations with Guaidó or the U.S. government about supporting Maduro’s removal.

At press time, the struggle for control of the military between Guaidó and Maduro continues. Maduro’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López – who several U.S. officials named as among those in conversations with the opposition – remains at the dictator’s side, but Maduro lost the head of the dreaded secret police (SEBIN), Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera. The U.S. Treasury Department lifted sanctions on Cristopher on Tuesday in an inducement to others like him to jump ship.

“The delisting of Cristopher also shows the good faith of the United States that removal of sanctions may be available for designated persons who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, or combat corruption in Venezuela,” the Treasury said in a statement.

The sanctions move followed a morning in Venezuela in which those seeking to use three major private airports – the Caracas, Higuerote, and Ocumare del Tuy private airports – found them surrounded by Maduro loyalist soldiers belonging to the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), the main repressive arm of the military against protesters, and the Special Forces (FAES). Local outlets report that the airports were overrun with soldiers by dawn, suggesting they had arrived there early morning Tuesday. Venezuelan journalist Federico Black reported that the soldiers allegedly blocked anyone without airport identification of a pilot’s license from entering.

“By the instruction of our President Nicolás Maduro, we announce that the government assumes the administrative and operational control of the airports to establish measures in an efficient way and prevent illicit acts that would compromise them,” Néstor Reverol, the minister of the interior, announced.

In Venezuela, a country where nearly 90 percent of the country does not have the money to secure three meals a day, only those at the highest levels of power can afford to fly out of these airports.

Reverol’s statement preceded an announcement by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, now packed with Maduro supporters, that it would strip the immunity of seven members of the National Assembly, the federal legislative body. Maduro’s top prosecutor also announced those listed would face prosecution for “treason to the nation, conspiracy, instigation to insurrection, civil rebellion, conspiracy to commit delinquency, usurpation of functions, public instigation to disobey the law and to continued hatred.”

The affected lawmakers were listed as Henry Ramos Allup, Luis Germán Florido, Marianela Magallanes López, José Simón Calzadilla Peraza, Andrés Enrique Delgado Velázquez, Amerigo De Grazia and Richard José Blanco Delgado.

While a prominent and longtime member of the opposition against the socialist government, having helped lead the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) that led a dialogue with the regime in 2016, Ramos Allup is a vice president of the Socialist International.

Ramos Allup refused to acknowledge the declaration on Wednesday. “Whatever action the prosecutor’s office imposes is null and void because there is no prosecutor’s office,” he said in response, repeating that officials appointed by Maduro, who is not president of Venezuela, do not have constitutionally vested power.

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