Two of Venezuela’s top political opposition leaders were arrested at their homes on Tuesday night in the capital city of Caracas.
Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma are both being held at Ramo Verde military prison, accused of violating terms of their house arrest by planning an escape and producing a video criticizing Venezuela’s president.
Nicolas Maduro violated U.S. sanctions after the Venezuelan government held a deceptive vote on Sunday with the aim of gaining unchecked power by rewriting the country’s constitution.
Maduro said he would use the assembly’s newfound power to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections, unless they sit with his party to negotiate an end to the protests which have left approximately 120 dead since April.
Prior to his arrest, Lopez made a video with his wife, Lilian Tintori, calling for Venezuelan citizens to continue resisting Maduro’s regime.
“If you are looking at this video now, it’s precisely because that occurred, because they came and they illegally imprisoned me again unjustly, a prisoner of consciousness, a prisoner for my ideas, a prisoner for wanting a better Venezuela,” Lopez said in July.
Top Venezuelan government officials are affirming their loyalty to Maduro, such as defense minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez. Sunday’s election ended up with a 545 member assembly that would govern the country without political opposition.
Lopez had served three years of a 13-year prison sentence at Ramo Verde and was released in July. Ledezma, who also posted a video online criticizing Sunday’s vote had been under house arrest after being detained in 2015
After Lopez and Ledezma’s videos were published, Venezuela state security arrested the men that night.
Attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez said the government’s decision to return Lopez to prison was “completely arbitrary” and that Lopez had obeyed the conditions imposed on his house arrest and never had plans to flee.
More than 8 million people voted in Sunday’s election according to official government figures. The turnout number is being disputed by Venezuelan opposition, analysts and by many nations across the globe.
Specifically, voting tech company CEO Antonio Mugica claimed Wednesday “without any doubt” that the actually count is closer to 7 million.
“Even in moments of deep political conflict and division we have been satisfied with the voting process and the count has been completely accurate,” Mugica said. “It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, 30 July, for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with.”
The U.S. government has responded to the arrests of Lopez and Ledezma, labeling them as political prisoners.
“The United States holds Maduro — who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition — personally responsible for the heath and safety of Mr. Lopez, Mr. Ledezma, and any other seized,” the White House said.
[Reuters] [AP] [Photo courtesy EFE via El Confidencial]