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Maduro government arrests and jails two opposition mayors

Demonstrations continue to flourish throughout Venezuela

Opposition Deputy María Corina Machado speaks to reporters.
Opposition Deputy María Corina Machado speaks to reporters.C. G. Rawlins / REUTERS

Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday night arrested a high-profile mayor from the southwestern city of San Cristóbal, where the ongoing anti-government protests first ignited more than a month ago.

Mayor Daniel Ceballos, an opposition figure, will face charges of “civil rebellion and criminal association,” announced Interior, Justice and Peace Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres.

Ceballos’ wife, Patricia Gutiérrez, called her husband’s arrest “illegal.”

On Wednesday, Enzo Scarano, the mayor of San Diego, a town in Carabobo state, was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he was convicted for failing to abide by a central government order to lift street barricades placed by demonstrators. Scarano was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his sentence.

Over the past several days, violence has grown in and around San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira state, where a national guardsman was shot dead and protestors set fire to a major building at the regional campus of the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces (Unefa). In Rubio, a town near the Colombian border outside San Cristóbal, two people were wounded by gunfire.

Ceballos’ sudden arrest is part of a series of crackdowns and measures by the government

John Rafael Castillo Castillo, a member of the National Guard who was shot in the back, became the fifth military officer to die since the nationwide unrest began on February 12.

Ceballos’ sudden arrest is part of a series of crackdowns and measures by the government of President Nicolás Maduro to quell the growing protests and riots by some sectors in Venezuela who are demanding that he step down and call elections.

On Monday, military troops occupied a symbolic square in Caracas that had been used by the opposition since 2002 when they organized protests against the late President Hugo Chávez.

The move by the National Assembly was meant to “demoralize” the opposition

The following day, lawmakers backing the government decided on to ask the attorney general to open a preliminary investigation into opposition deputy María Corina Machado, which could lead to the lifting of her parliamentary immunity so she can face treason charges. The move was made after the government announced that it would empanel a “truth commission” to investigate the violence in the country.

Machado is an influential opposition leader, who, along with Leopoldo López, helped organize the protests calling for Maduro’s resignation. López, a former mayor, is being held in custody at a military prison outside of Caracas.

Machado was expected to speak later Thursday before the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington. After arriving in Miami on Wednesday, she told reporters that the order to place her under investigation came from Havana.

Before leaving for the United States, she explained that the move by the National Assembly was planned to help “demoralize” the opposition and its supporters. “We won’t abandon you,” Machado said at a news conference with members of the opposition bench. “I will remain in this fight until we win. This movement is made up of millions of Venezuelans and now we are invincible.”