Venezuela: Secret Police Detain Leopoldo Lopez, Mayor Ledezma of Caracas in Midnight Raids

Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez (L) and Antonio Ledezma -- who were both under house arrest -- were taken back to jail, sparking international anger
AFP/File Leopoldo LOPEZ, EVARISTO SA

Venezuela’s Secret Police (Sebin) stormed the homes of opposition leader Leopoldo López and rightful mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma early Tuesday morning, taking the two men away over alleged violations of their house arrest provisions.

López was sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing peaceful protests in 2014. Ledezma was arrested in a separate midnight raid in 2015 and has not been convicted of any crime. Jorge Rodríguez, a socialist, currently exercises the mayoral powers in the nation’s capital on the orders of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Government agents entered the homes of the two opposition politicians shortly after midnight Tuesday, according to their wives, who have denounced the arrests on social media. In López’s cases, Popular Will party official Roland Carreño told reporters that the police went to López’s home and claimed to need him to step out of the house to take a photo. When he obliged, they arrested him and took him away. Wife Lilian Tintori has posted security camera footage showing the arrest:

She also confirmed that the family was not provided with any information regarding the arrest. “Urgent: they just took Leopoldo from home. We do not know where he is or where they are taking him. Maduro is responsible if anything happens to him,” she wrote on Twitter:

Around the same time, Sebin agents arrived at the home of Antonio Ledezma. Daughter Oriette Ledezma, explained in a video published to social media that secret police agents – clad in all black and wearing masks – stormed their home and dragged Ledezma, 62, away in his pajamas.

In a video published by the Ledezma family, the agents can be seen dragging the mayor away while a woman believed to be wife Mitzy Capriles shouts, “They are taking Ledezma away! Dictatorship!” The family has confirmed that, like the López family, the government has not informed them of their loved one’s whereabouts:

The local Caracas courts have now issued a statement revoking house arrest for both López and Ledezma, claiming that the two violated their provisions by planning to flee the country, according to Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. The court also claimed that López had violated his house arrest provisions with “political proselytizing” and also banned Ledezma from making any public statements. As Ledezma has not been convicted of a crime, it remains unclear how long the government will keep him imprisoned; López is expected to continue serving his 13-year sentence.

“When the Venezuelan justice system allowed the house arrest condition, there were limitations and restrictions imposed regarding political declarations, message transmissions, above all if these messages called for contempt of institutions and [election] results,” Elías Jaua, a senior Maduro official, explained on state television.

The Maduro regime organized an election Sunday to appoint representatives to the “national constituents’ assembly,” an unconstitutional body Maduro has fabricated to usurp the power of the opposition-held National Assembly. All candidates to the “constituents’ assembly” were socialists, and the opposition urged anti-socialist Venezuelans not to participate in the elections.

Among Leopoldo López’s last free tweets was a call to peacefully assemble in the streets against the vote. “ALL the country out to the streets to block [roads] and [organize] a massive assembly in Caracas. … No to the FRAUD of the constituents!” he wrote:

López had also recently spoken on the phone with American Vice President Mike Pence regarding the situation in Venezuela. According to the White House readout, “On behalf of President Trump, the Vice President firmly stated that the United States stands with the Venezuelan people, and praised Mr. López for his courage and outspoken defense of Venezuelan democracy despite his current detention under house arrest.”

Ledezma, meanwhile, had published a video from his home condemning the government and criticizing the opposition for attempting dialogue in secret with the government. While a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition, Ledezma laments the group’s “own-goals” in dealing with the dictatorship. “We know perfectly well that public powers have become apparatus at the service of a totalitarian regime, a tyranny,” he said, adding that the opposition “did not capitalize on [their] victories” and criticizing opposition leaders for allowing “egos to become tormenting demons” in the movement. “Let’s stop seeking saviors,” he pled:

Ledezma was violently arrested in 2015, dragged out of his office “like a dog,” with police not providing a warrant. Following the publication of video of the arrest, the Venezuelan regime cracked down on journalists responsible for covering the incident.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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