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Venezuela asks Interpol to arrest three opposition leaders

Attorney General’s Office accuses trio of plotting to assassinate President Maduro

Opposition leader María Corina Machado at a demonstration on June 8.
Opposition leader María Corina Machado at a demonstration on June 8.CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS (REUTERS)

Over the last two weeks, the Venezuelan government has little by little been unveiling an alleged assassination plot against President Nicolás Maduro. The case has been used as a pretext to carry out raids against opposition leaders and the Attorney General’s Office has now announced an arrest warrant for three members of the opposition who were allegedly involved in the plot.

The police are looking for Diego Arria, Pedro Mario Burelli and Ricardo Koesling who, along with former deputy María Corina Machado, either exchanged or were mentioned in emails the government intercepted. Those emails are the only piece of evidence the administration shared with the press. The participants talked about “annihilating Maduro,” but the phrase could also be interpreted as a reference to his political demise.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz is a well-known supporter of late president Hugo Chávez. She announced the news on the state television network, saying: “We cannot allow any attempts on the lives of government employees.” She told the press that the plot also targeted other officials beside the president.

Burelli is a businessman and lobbyist. He was the director of the state-owned oil company PDVSA and has been living in the United States for several years. The government called on him to testify last Monday but he did not show up. Given Burelli’s response and – according to the prosecutor – the likelihood that neither Arria nor Koesling will show up for their respective court appointments this week, her office has ordered their arrests. The Attorney General’s Office has also sent a request to Interpol in case they are not in the country.

I checked my followers and, for now, Interpol is not one of them,” joked one of the three on Twitter

Diego Arria has served as governor of Caracas and was minister of tourism during the first administration of late president Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974-1979). He served as ambassador to the United Nations (1989-1993) and as president of the Security Council where he had to deal with the crisis in the Balkans, heading up a special mission to Bosnia. He ran as an independent candidate in the 1978 presidential elections and participated in the 2012 primaries held by opposition groups. Henrique Capriles Radonski won the contest and stood as candidate against Hugo Chávez. Although Arria is a member of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) alliance, he favors a direct approach to ending the Maduro regime. The Chávez administration expropriated his main farming and fishing estate.

Ricardo Koesling is an expert in criminal law who has been linked to anti-Castro and radical opposition movements.

The fugitives did not take long to react via Twitter. Burelli joked: “I checked my followers and, for now, Interpol is not one of them.”

Meanwhile, Arria criticized the unwarranted measure: “They call on me to testify and 24 hours before they ordered my arrest. If they were to charge me, the attorney general, who is in the service of Cuba, would order my execution.”

The arrest warrants tighten the government’s grip on the Venezuelan opposition. Besides María Corina Machado – whom the leadership of the National Assembly summarily dismissed in March – youth leaders Julio César Rivas and Gaby Arellano and human rights lawyer and activist Tamara Suju have been subpoenaed to testify in the next few days.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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