Venezuelan prosecutors announced charges of “terrorism” and “treason” against a prominent opposition politician after intelligence agents arrested him from his car on a highway in Caracas.
Prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a statement on Monday that Freddy Guevara had been arrested by members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEPEN) because of his “links to extremist and paramilitary groups linked to the Colombian government.”
“He will be charged with the crimes of terrorism, assault on the constitutional order, conspiracy to commit a crime and treason,” the statement said.
Guevara, a close ally of opposition leader Juan Guaido, posted on social media from inside his car when he was intercepted by secret police on a highway in Caracas.
Greetings to my family, the 35-year-old said in a live broadcast, “I am so sorry that you are going through this suffering, and I hope it will be short.”
A spokesman for Guaido’s office said Guevara, who was pardoned less than a year ago on charges of inciting violence, has been transferred to the secret service’s Haliquid prison in Sebin, Caracas.
The public prosecutor did not specify where he is being held.
Separately, Guaido also said that unidentified gunmen threatened him with arrest earlier on Monday while he was trying to leave his apartment in a bid to help Guevara.
Videos circulating in his office showed at least two men in flak jackets and masks in the basement of Guaido’s building approaching his car and pointing assault rifles.
One of the men opened the driver’s door and forced the driver to the ground, shouting “Get out!” The videos showed.
The Venezuelan Ministry of Information did not respond to a request for comment.
Conversations in Mexico
The incidents occurred as the Venezuelan government and the opposition prepared for negotiations scheduled for next month in Mexico with mediation from Norway, people familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency last week. The talks are aimed at resolving the deep political crisis in the South American country.
President Nicolas Maduro, in an appearance on state television on Monday, confirmed the negotiations plans but said the opposition should abandon violent tactics before the talks. Without mentioning Guevara or Guaido, he said he had evidence that some actors were plotting coups, and said prosecutors acted on that evidence.
“I agree with the Mexico-Norway table, but there must be conditions, there must be an outright renunciation of violent practices,” Maduro said.
The Venezuelan government had previously linked Guevara and his political mentor, Leopoldo Lopez, now exiled in Spain, to violent clashes last week in a Caracas neighborhood that left at least 26 people dead.
“They want to masquerade as democrats,” Maduro said, without referring directly to the Guevara case, but “alliing with criminals.”
He said, “Some of these sectors… were pardoned from previous causes, but were pardoned… and they immediately join in searching for criminals, paying the price for violent groups, and preparing for assassinations.”
The US-backed opposition classifies Maduro as a dictator, claiming that he rigged his 2018 re-election and is using the justice system to stifle dissent. But Maduro, who maintains the support of the military, denies the elections were rigged, and has accused Guaido of plotting with the United States to oust him in a coup.
“Threats will not stop us”
As news of Guevara’s arrest spread, Guaido’s wife Fabiana Rosales tweeted that security forces had entered their apartment building in eastern Caracas.
Today we live hours of anguish, siege, persecution and trying to arrest the president today in the basement of my house, they are signs of a dictatorship that persecutes, kills and arrests, and today they fired long guns at my house. pic.twitter.com/jR8pqETrhE
– Fabiana Rosales (@FabiiRosales) July 13, 2021
Reporters arrived at the scene minutes later, and neighbors gathered to protest around two unmarked oval trucks with men in flak jackets and assault rifles on board, some of them seated in masks.
Others wore hats that said DIE – the Spanish acronym for the Directorate of Intelligence and Strategic Police Unit.
Shortly thereafter, an unmarked gray Toyota truck full of police rolled out of the basement garage, leaving the apartment complex.
Guaido then got out of an SUV and told reporters that the men had left. He said it was not clear which branch of the security forces they belonged to.
“They got in our way and pointed their guns at us, in the basement,” Guaido said.
The United States denounced the actions against Guevara and Guaido.
“We strongly condemn the arrest of Venezuelan Congressman Freddy Guevara and threats against Interim President Juan Guaido in Venezuela,” Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs, wrote on Twitter.
It urged the international community to join in condemning these acts and called for the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.