Venezuela: Maduro Abducts Legislature’s #2 Using Tow Truck

The move comes as President Nicolás Maduro (pictured) has clamped down on political opposition and consolidated power in his government’s hands. | Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images.
Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela’s secret police (SEBIN) abducted the first Vice President of the National Assembly Edgar Zambrano late Wednesday, hauling him away in a tow truck. Zambrano’s is the first arrest of a lawmaker in the aftermath of the April 30 attempted military uprising led by President Juan Guaidó.

Guaidó became president in January after Maduro’s last legal term expired, but Maduro has refused to give up power and still controls the military. The National Assembly, as the federal legislature, has the constitutional authority to choose an interim president to establish elections when the country’s leader breaks the democratic order and attempts to install himself perpetually. Guaidó was president of the National Assembly at the time of his inauguration and has yet to be replaced, making Zambrano is second in command.

In a dramatic turn of events on Wednesday, Zambrano live-tweeted his arrest, which occurred while he was still in his car. “We alert all the people of Venezuela that at this moment, 6:35 p.m., we are surrounded by SEBIN [agents], we are in our vehicle at the headquarters of [political party] Democratic Action in la Florida [a Caracas street],” he wrote.

About half an hour later, Zambrano sent another message: “We were surprised by the SEBIN, as we refused to get out of our vehicle, they used a tow truck to transfer us forcibly to the Helicoide. We democrats will stay firm on our feet in this struggle.”

The Helicoide is one of Venezuela’s most notorious political prisons, initially designed as a shopping mall, and serves as the SEBIN headquarters. The Helicoide is where Maduro keeps most of his high-profile prisoners of conscience, including at one time American hostage Joshua Holt.

Reports indicate that the incident took place in a public area where many residents came out to support Zambrano, shouting “murderers!” at the SEBIN officers as they hauled Zambrano’s car away.

Guaidó himself confirmed the arrest on Twitter shortly after, publishing a photo of the incident.

“The dictatorship has abducted the Vice President of the [National Assembly] using its political police. They reached the absurd extreme of taking him away in a tow truck, onboard his vehicle, violating all due process and exhibiting the authoritarianism that they obey,” Guaido said. He warned the regime that he had alerted international allies, among them nearly every country in the Western Hemisphere, of Zambrano’s arrest and requested moral support and awareness of Maduro’s criminal actions. Guaidó also noted that, since Maduro shut down free and fair elections following the opposition’s victory in the National Assembly in 2015, the members of that body are the only government officials directly elected by the people, making them a threat to Maduro.

In response to that victory, Maduro attempted to dissolve the National Assembly and establish his own legislature outside of the confines of the Venezuelan constitution. Maduro named it the “National Constituent Assembly,” ordered it to write a new constitution, and filled it with loyalists, including his wife and son.

Members of the National Assembly constitutionally receive immunity from prosecution. On Wednesday, Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court (TSJ) announced a mass effort to strip opposition politicians of that immunity and arrest them. In its first announcement, it listed seven opposition politicians: 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. Maduro top prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced shortly after the lawmakers lost their immunity that he would pursue criminal action against them for, among other crimes, treason and “hatred.”

In a second announcement, the Supreme Court stripped the immunity of Freddy Superlano, Sergio Vergara y Juan Andrés Mejía and similarly sought charges against them for treason and “civil rebellion.”

The news reports on Zambrano’s arrest state that he, too, lost his immunity on Wednesday, but the Supreme Court did not publicize his name.

Maduro has yet to address Zambrano’s arrest but one of his top officials, the drug trafficker and television host Diosdado Cabello, used his program Con el Mazo Dando (“Hitting with the Mallet”) to warn that more abductions were on the way. Cabello specifically said three other lawmakers were soon to be arrested for “active participation in a coup,” without offering names.

Cabello also mocked of Zambrano’s arrest, saying of his car, “it has to be completely cleaned, disinfected, and have the bad smells removed.” Despite the glib attitude, Cabello said his arrest was “not a circus” and that “there will be justice” against those who support Guaidó.”

The latest arrests appear to be part of a “rectification of the revolution” that Maduro promised shortly after Guaidó declared the military had abandoned Maduro on April 30. Guaidó claimed that Maduro’s tenure was over and that the military had agreed to take orders from the legitimate president, but that civilians still needed to take the streets to force Maduro to physically leave the presidential palace. Maduro did not leave, however, and the heads of the armed forces all remained by his side but one: the head of the SEBIN, Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera. Maduro swiftly replaced him with Gustavo González López, a former top official believed to be responsible for the mysterious death of opposition politician Fernando Albán in SEBIN custody. Maduro’s officials claimed the death was a suicide.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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