Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, was arrested in a siege of his office yesterday without a warrant and for unspecified “conspiracy” charges. His arrest occurs the day after Popular Will Party opposition leader Leopoldo López’s one-year anniversary behind bars, also for posing an unspecified criminal threat to the nation.
Ledezma, a vocal critic of President Nicolás Maduro, tweeted shortly before news broke that his office was being raided by Secret Service (Sebin) officers. After that missive, his wife, Mitzy Capriles, took over the account and asserted that she did not know where her husband was taken or why he was arrested.
According to reports from Argentine outlet Infobae, about 50 fully-equipped officers raided Ledezma’s office, despite a lack of evidence showing that Ledezma offered resistance to the troops. Ismael García, an opposition legislator, Tweeted that he was a witness to the arrest: “I just saw how they dragged Ledezma out of his office like a dog. They threw his doors open without a warrant.”
Surveillance camera video has surfaced on social media showing the intensity of the Sebin operation:
— VVSincensura (@VVperiodistas) February 19, 2015
Following the arrest, President Maduro appeared on national airwaves to accuse Ledezma of “crimes against the country.” The Wall Street Journal notes that Maduro presented no evidence tying Ledezma to any conspiracies against the socialist government and confirms García’s claim that no evidence of a warrant for the arrest has surfaced.
“He was arrested on order of the prosecutor and will be processed so that he responds for all of the crimes against the country’s peace, security and constitution… Whoever is behind the coup has to go to prison, whoever it may be,” Maduro claimed. Maduro has for many months been claiming that his enemies are plotting a coup against him. Among those implicated so far are a number of opposition leaders, dozens of military leaders that have been since arrested, and Vice President Joe Biden.
Venezuela’s public ministry has officially charged Ledezma with “conspiratorial acts to organize and execute violent acts against the democratically constituted government.”
Ledezma’s arrest recalls the violent measures used to detain Daniel Ceballos, the mayor of the western regional capital San Cristóbal, last year. San Cristóbal, a college town on the Colombian border, remains among one of the country’s staunchest anti-socialist strongholds; Ceballos remains in prison without a trial to this day.
Ledezma’s attorney, Omar Estacio, confirmed today that Ledezma is being held in Sebin headquarters and that he and Capriles were able to speak to Ledezma momentarily. He also confirmed that authorities provided him with no specifics on the charges being leveled against his client.
Fresh off of protests observing the one-year anniversary of the arrest of Leopoldo López, Venezuelans are once again taking to the streets to demand the freedom of their capital’s mayor. Maria Corina Machado, a Venezuelan legislator stripped of her democratically elected position for visiting Washington, D.C. to denounce the human rights abuses of the Maduro regime, has organized a protest for 8 P.M. tonight. Univisión also reports that people have begun to congregate during the day before Ledezma’s office to call for justice. Machado, who joined the group, was accompanied by López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, who led a rally on Wednesday for her husband. “We are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, and they want to hide it by arresting our leaders,” she told the crowd.
Protests are expected to continue throughout the weekend.