Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro late Tuesday announced the capture of three air force generals who he claimed were plotting to overthrow his government.
Without giving details about the alleged conspiracy, Maduro said the plot was discovered thanks to the “good conscience” of several loyal top-ranking military officers. “They were alarmed when they came to tell me that they were being drawn into a coup plot,” Maduro said, adding that the three generals were linked to the opposition.
The president made the remarks after welcoming a mission of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), who were undertaking a two-day fact-finding mission to investigate the unrest and riots that have rocked the country since February 12.
Maduro said the generals, who have not been identified, will be tried before a military court.
Venezuela has been under increased pressure as the government continues to crack down on the opposition and protestors. On Tuesday, María Corina Machacho, a leading opposition leader, was kicked out of the Chamber of Deputies after National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello – a member of the ruling PSUV socialist party – accused her of violating parliamentary rules by trying to address the Organization of American States (OAS) with the Panamanian delegation.
The plot was discovered thanks to the “good conscience” of some loyal top-ranking military officers
Later in a fast-track decision, the Supreme Court sentenced an opposition mayor, Daniel Ceballos, to one year in prison for disobeying a central government order to remove road blockades set up by demonstrators in his city of San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira state, where the protest movement originated. The court also removed him from office.
Ceballos was arrested on March 19, the same day another opposition mayor, Enzo Scarano, of the town of San Diego, Carabobo state, was sentenced to 10 months for similarly failing to comply with central government orders.
Machado, who is a leader of the Popular Will (VP) party, said Caballo violated parliamentary rules by replacing her, and has vowed to take her seat in the National Assembly this week. She was prevented from speaking during a regular meeting of the OAS permanent council last week after Venezuela’s leftist allies voted against giving her the floor to address the situation.
Panama, which filed a petition with the OAS to open a debate on the unrest in Venezuela, had offered Machado a spot on its delegation panel to give her a chance to speak. Caracas has broken off diplomatic relations with the Panamanian government.
PSUV deputies have accused Machado of treason and fomenting violence stemming from the unrest and riots that began in February and so far have resulted in 38 deaths from clashes between police and anti-government protestors.
Writing in The New York Times, Leopoldo López, a VP leader who is being held in a military prison outside of Caracas, urged Venezuelans “to continue to speak, act and protest.”
“Some believe that speaking out only antagonizes the ruling party – inviting Mr Maduro to move more quickly to strip away rights – and provides a convenient distraction from the economic and social ruin that is taking place. In my view, this path is akin to a victim of abuse remaining silent for fear of inviting more punishment,” wrote the Harvard-educated former mayor in his op-ed piece.