LATIN AMERICA

Regional Venezuelan opposition leader shot dead at campaign event

Luis Manuel Díaz was gunned down at a gathering in the north of the country

Lilian Tintori at an event in Guárico where opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz was killed
Lilian Tintori at an event in Guárico where opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz was killedTwitter

Luis Manuel Díaz, secretary general of Venezuelan opposition party Democratic Action in northern Guárico state, was assassinated on Wednesday night during a campaign event in the town of Altagracia de Orituco. Díaz, a union member and married father of two, had been a member of the party for two years. Democratic Action secretary and candidate to the National Assembly Henry Ramus Allup broke the news of his death to the public.

The shooting took place at 7.30pm towards the end of the event at which Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, had also spoken. Tintori is on a speaking tour of several states. Early that morning, the López family said authorities allegedly held Tintori back at Santiago Mariño Airport on Margarita Island.

I will denounce in detail the terror, harassment, violence we are suffering at the hands of the regime” Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López

After a short visit to Valle de la Pascua, where she also denounced that she had been harassed by pro-government groups, Tintori and candidates Rummy Olivo and Carlos Prosperi flew to Altagracia in a light aircraft. Upon landing, an inspection discovered several defects with the plane. According to Abraham Fernández, a local leader of the opposition Primero Justicia party, the two women were upset at the fact that they could have suffered a tragic accident.

The election rally for which thousands had gathered was due to begin at 2.30pm, but numerous delays meant it did not get going until late afternoon. After the speeches and just before Rummy Olivo was due to take to the stage to sing a closing song, shots were heard. Fernández saw Díaz fall. He had been hit several times. “There was so much euphoria, noise and confusion. People thought the transformer near the platform had exploded,” Fernández says.

Ramos Allup blamed “armed groups” from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela for the shooting. Díaz was taken to a clinic in a private car but died on the way. Once out of danger, Tintori commented on the incident on Twitter, saying: “Tomorrow I will denounce in detail the terror, harassment, violence we are suffering at the hands of the regime.”

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The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), an umbrella group for opposition parties in Venezuela, released a statement confirming Díaz’s death. “From the United Venezuela Command, we want to highlight the fact that the Venezuelan government is responsible, by action or omission, for any act of violence in Venezuela. The violent rhetoric from the highest levels of government is responsible for spreading hate.”

MUD also said the assassination was not an isolated incident. Since campaigning for the December 6 elections began, several opposition candidates and party leaders have been victims of harassment. A few hours before Díaz’s death, opposition supporters in Bolívar state, where former presidential candidate Governor Henrique Capriles was campaigning, also reported abuses by alleged pro-government groups. On Sunday, Miguel Pizarro, a deputy for Capriles’ Primero Justicia party who is up for re-election, said he had had to abandon a tour he was undertaking by motorcycle after armed men dressed in red shirts threatened to shoot him and members of his group.

After learning of Díaz’s death, the Union of South American Nations’ (UNASUR) Electoral Mission condemned the violence, which it said could affect the democratic electoral process, and called for an investigation.

The Venezuelan government has yet to issue a statement on the reported incidents.

Translation by Dyane Jean François.