Two Venezuelan opposition leaders were taken from their homes by security services early Tuesday, a day after a vote that created a powerful new legislative body that tightens President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on the South American nation.
Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were taken by authorities from the homes in Caracas where they were already under house arrest, according to their families who shared video of their detention on social media.
The apparent political crackdown swiftly follows financial sanctions imposed by President Trump’s administration on Maduro on Monday and Washington’s characterization of the vote to create the new constitutional assembly that endows him with virtually unlimited powers as a “sham.” Most Venezuelans boycotted the vote.
Venezuela election officials said 8 million people voted in favor of the new assembly. However, Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led National Assembly, said only 7% of the electorate — between 2 million and 3 million people — voted.
Video posted on the Twitter account of Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori shows a man being led away state security agents. “They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house. We don’t know where he is,” Tintori said. She blames Maduro’s “dictatorship” for his “kidnap.”
Ledezma’s daughter Vanessa posted similar video of her father being taken away by officers of the Venezuelan intelligence service, Sebin. “They’re taking Ledezma, they’re taking Ledezma, dictatorship!” a woman can be heard shouting in the video.
Lopez was transferred to house arrest in July after spending more than three years in prison for protesting against Maduro’s government. He was sentenced to more than a decade in jail on charges that include inciting protesters to violence. Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor, was detained in 2015 and has also been under house arrest.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry was not immediately available for comment.
“He’s not just a bad leader, he is now a dictator,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said of Maduro, who took to national television Monday to respond to a wave of condemnation by thumbing his nose at the “North American empire.”
Maduro brushed off the new U.S. sanctions and criticism at home and abroad over his attempts to overhaul Venezuela’s political system. He also vowed to rewrite the constitution and go after a string of enemies, from independent Venezuelan news channels to gunmen he claimed were sent by neighboring Colombia to disrupt the vote as part of an international conspiracy led by the man he calls “Emperor Donald Trump.”
“They don’t intimidate me. The threats and sanctions of the empire don’t intimidate me for a moment,” Maduro said on TV. “I don’t listen to orders from the empire, not now or ever … Bring on more sanctions, Donald Trump.”
Along with the U.S., the European Union, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Spain, Britain and others criticized the vote. Maduro said he received congratulations from Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua, among others.
Source: USA Today