If there was any doubt that Venezuelans live at the whim of a tyrant, Antonio Ledezma’s kidnapping yesterday made this fact painfully clear.
I say “kidnapping” and not “arrest” because Ledezma was not arrested. An arrest is a legal detention with the purpose of submitting an individual to the legal process as part of a criminal investigation. Arrests are surgical legal tools couched within a framework of equality before justice.
The approximately 80 SEBIN officers who broke into Ledezma’s office late yesterday afternoon did not present warrants to either search his office or to arrest him. Many of the men were hooded. They fired into the air at least eight times to disperse the crowd of concerned citizens who had gathered to witness the savagery. They took the keys to personal vehicles belonging to Ledezma’s staff to prevent them from following the police convoy. They trashed Ledezma’s office, beat him, and dragged him away explaining neither why they were taking him or where.
The men who took Ledezma did not arrest him: they kidnapped him. They were not officers of the law: they were thugs sent by an increasingly desperate tyrant to neutralize an opponent.
Ledezma’s family and his lawyer had no idea where he had been taken for hours after his arrest. Late last night, crowds began forming outside the SEBIN headquarters at Plaza Venezuela because it seemed like the most plausible place for him to be (it turns out he had been taken to El Helicoide, the other SEBIN headquarters in Caracas). Lawyers contacted the SEBIN, which said that they did not know where Ledezma was. CNN contacted the Public Ministry, which said that they were not aware of the arrest.
At approximately 10:00 PM EST, the first official words on the kidnapping came from Maduro himself. Speaking during a marathon cadena, Maduro said that Ledezma had been arrested and that he would be made to pay for his crimes against peace in Venezuela. In a heartbreaking display of unquestioning ignorance, the meagre crowd waved their miniature Venezuelan flags and clapped happily at the news.
We now know that Ledezma faces charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government. Ledezma’s mistake was to co-author and sign a press release issued on February 12 that called for “a peaceful transition” of governments. Claiming that the document had essentially “activated” the latest coup – for which no good evidence exists – Maduro ordered Ledezma arrested. The same document was also signed by Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez.
Ledezma has already been found guilty. In Venezuela, there is no presumption of innocence. You are guilty if Maduro says so; the courts can catch up at their own pace. The democratically elected mayor of Metropolitan Caracas will go to jail.
For all their talk of representing the people, the PSUV and the Maduro government are the antithesis of democracy. Maduro is a tyrant; his word is law, his paranoid delusions are policy, and public institutions exist only to carry out his every impulse.
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