The raid on Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s office yesterday afternoon and his subsequent detention have shocked Venezuelans and international human rights organizations alike.
Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas, was dragged out of his office in Caracas by dozens of heavily armed Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) officers. The video below, taken from building security cameras, shows the moment Ledezma was led by a group of no less than 13 armed officers into an elevator:
The video below shows the moments when Ledezma is led out of the building into a waiting police car. The crowd gathered to witness the commotion begin yelling obscenities at the SEBIN officers as it becomes clear that they’ve taken the mayor:
Confusion Over Ledezma Charges, Whereabouts
For several hours after he was taken from his office, Ledezma’s whereabouts or the reason for his detention were completely unknown. Opposition figure Ismael Garcia, who witnessed the raid, said that the men who took Ledezma did not provide warrants either for raiding his office nor for arresting him. Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles also confirmed that no legal documentation whatsoever was provided by the men who carried out the raid.
Ledezma’s lawyer, Omar Estacio, spoke two hours after Ledezma’s arrest, and said that the SEBIN denied taking him. Estacio said:
They’ve got us on a wild goose chase. Both at the main SEBIN headquarters and at El Helicoide [another SEBIN headquarters in Caracas], they’re denying that they have Ledezma detained. They say he’s not there. Plus, no officer will identify himself. They just give us their badge numbers.
Once word had spread that Ledezma was in SEBIN custody, crowds of Venezuelans flocked to the organization’s headquarters near Plaza Venezuela to demand his release:
Security officers were quick to action, setting up barricades against the protesters:
Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles arrived at approximately 7:45 PM local time to lend his support:
Ledezma is scheduled to appear before a judge in Caracas this evening to be formally charged of being involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Maduro: Ledezma “Will Answer” For Crimes
Speaking during a cadena that lasted well into the night yesterday, Maduro provided the first official confirmation that Ledezma had been detained several hours after the fact. During his speech, Maduro accused Ledezma of several crimes, including “massacres”, involvement in an unspecified number of past conspiracies, and of “activating” an ongoing coup, amongst others.
They call him “The Vampire”, but I don’t call him that. Several generations of Venezuelans [call him that]. Today, Mr. Antonio Ledezma was captured by order of the Attorney General and will be processed by Venezuelan justice so that he can answer for all of the crimes he has committed against peace in Venezuela.
Ledezma Case Draws Global Condemnation
The Ledezma case became a trending topic on Twitter last night as Venezuelans and international observers alike reacted to the story.
The detention of Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma yesterday is extremely worrying. Within the current Venezuelan context, there is no other alternative but to assume that once again authorities are not interested in giving priority to human rights, but rather to silencing critics.
The rule of law means that the human rights of every person must be protected, and it is unacceptable for individuals to be detained without any evidence that they have committed a crime. Over the past year, people have been arbitrarily detained for simply being part of the opposition, or for having critical views of the government. The detention of the Mayor of Caracas adds one more person to the already extensive list of politically-motivated detentions.
Over the past week, Amnesty International has been made aware that judge Ali Fabricio Paredes has also been detained, supposedly as a consequence of a sentence he had handed out on a high-profile case that had not pleased the Executive. Similarly, lawyer Tadeo Arriechi has been detained as a form of reprisal for conducting his duties by representing a company accused of destabilizing the economy.
While Venezuelan authorities refuse to take human rights seriously and understand that the rule of law should give room for dissidence, the country will continue along a deteriorating spiral that will affect the most vulnerable above all.
Opposition figure Maria Corina Machado spoke at an event in Chacaito today in support of Ledezma, saying:
The regime has its days numbered. That’s why they’re attacking [people] left and right… This fight is for Ledezma, Leopoldo, Julio Borges, for all the politically persecuted. Ledezma, Leopoldo and the students are today, more than ever, an example of democracy.
She has also called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States (OAE) to address the “brutal blow” democracy in Venezuela was dealt last night:
We call today on all proponents of democracy in our hemisphere, of our America, to raise their voices so that their governments speak out. [We must] convoke an emergency meeting with the OAE chancellors so that we may discus this situation before the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles accused Maduro of trying to use Ledezma as a scapegoat and as means to distract attention from the crisis affecting the country:
What does Nicolas hope to achieve with this? Hide the crisis? The crisis will not be hidden by throwing Ledezma in jail.
He also pointed out that every single Venezuelan is at risk of facing the wrath of the Venezuelan state for speaking out against it:
If they do this to the mayor of our capital, what won’t they do to you, citizen? They’d go into your business, your convenience story, your house; they’d take you out by force.
We’ve expressed, both in public and in private, our desire for the rights of opposition members to be respected. We’ve even asked for the release of Leopoldo Lopez. With the case of Mayor Antonio Ledezma, we also hope that he can count on all of the guarantees provided by due process.
Santos also said that he was “hurt” by what is happening in Venezuela.
Secretary General of the Organization of American States Jose Miguel Insulza said:
Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s detention has raised serious alarm due to the way in which it was conducted (…) Acts which are conducive to a spiral of polarization which envelops Venezuelan society and makes it impossible for common ground to be found to unite the wills of all sides must be stopped.
MUD Calls for Protests Against Ledezma Detention
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica has called for protests in the next few days and a cacerolazo for tonight at 8:00 PM local time. A cacerolazo is a form of protest in which people bang pots and pans loudly from their homes with the intention of flooding cities with noise.
The call was made by MUD leaders at a demonstration in Caracas today in support of Ledezma. Below, some pictures from the event:
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