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LatinNews Regional Monitor: Andean Group - 9 May 2019

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VENEZUELA: Opposition deputy leader detained as Maduro fights back

On 8 May, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled national assembly (AN) and the country’s internationally recognised interim president, Juan Guaidó, denounced the detention of the AN’s deputy vice president, Édgar Zambrano, by agents from the national intelligence service (Sebin).


Zambrano is the first opposition national deputy to be arrested since Venezuela’s supreme court (TSJ), which remains loyal to the de facto government led by Nicolás Maduro, called for the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by various opposition deputies to be lifted so that they could face treason charges for their role in the partial military uprising led by Guaidó last week. Zambrano’s detention has been rejected as illegal by Venezuela’s opposition and the likes of the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU), and the US, all of which accuse the Maduro government of once again violating the constitution and of repressing political dissent. With the US calling for Zambrano’s immediate release and warning of repercussions otherwise, the move exacerbates the political and diplomatic tensions over Venezuela.

  • The TSJ had called for seven opposition deputies to be stripped of their immunity and prosecuted for conspiring against the Maduro government. Zambrano was not among them, but after its initial resolution the TSJ called for three other deputies including Zambrano to also be stripped of their immunity last night.
  • The national constituent assembly (ANC) set up by the Maduro government and which has been given legislative powers but which is not recognised as legitimate by the opposition, then issued a resolution saying that the deputies named by the TSJ no longer enjoy any immunity. Within hours of that resolution yesterday Zambrano alerted via Twitter that Sebin agents had stopped his car and were trying to arrest him.
  • After Zambrano’s Twitter account fell silent, Guaidó used the same medium to say that his vice president had been illegally detained by the Maduro government. “The regime has kidnaped the first vice president of the national assembly”, Guaidó said.
  • Pointing out that only the AN can remove the immunity of its members, Guaidó accused the Maduro government of trying to dismantle the AN. “I alert Venezuela and the international community that the usurper regime is trying to disintegrate the national assembly…via attacks by the illegitimate supreme court and the national constituent assembly”, he said.
  • Guaidó noted that, since 2015, 29 national deputies have been illegally detained on orders from the TSJ, representing 24% of the AN. He also expressed concerns that other deputies accused of treason would now be detained, as the Maduro government persecutes him and his allies.
  • There was an immediate reaction from the international community. The US embassy in Venezuela tweeted that Zambrano’s “arbitrary arrest [is] inexcusable” and warned that “there would be consequences” if he was not immediately released. This was then echoed by the governments of Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru.
  • Even the EU, which has adopted an ambivalent stance on the crisis in Venezuela, and continues to promote a dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition, released a statement in which it said that Zambrano’s arrest is “another flagrant violation of [Venezuela’s] constitution”. Describing it as a “politically motivated action aimed at silencing the national assembly”, the EU statement warns that “the EU will continue to react, through its different policy instruments, to further erosion of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human rights” in Venezuela.
  • The secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, also condemned the arrest and demanded Zambrano’s immediate release. Almagro called for the end of the “political persecution by the Venezuelan dictatorship” and for the international community to work together to expedite Maduro’s departure from office. In particular, Almagro criticised the “totally failed” efforts by the International Contact Group on Venezuela (ICG), made up of Latin American and European countries, to promote a new dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition, and he urged the international community to now use all instruments it has available to “stop the repression and violence” in Venezuela.

Looking Ahead: Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez reacted to the latest developments in Venezuela by calling for more countries to impose economic sanctions on the Maduro government to force its departure. This possibility now seems even more likely.