Opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, both serving house arrest in their respective homes in Caracas, were dragged out of their residences in the middle of the night by masked agents from the SEBIN, the regime’s political police. The two men were subsequently taken to the Ramo Verde military prison south of Caracas.
The SEBIN agents did not have warrants for their arrests, and provided no reason for the detentions to the terrified relatives who witnessed the event.
The video below was filmed inside Ledezma’s home. It shows the moment he was taken away, still in his pajamas, while his indignant family watched in terror:
The video below was captured by a security camera outside of Lopez’ home. It shows the moment that a heavy contingent of SEBIN agents placed him inside a vehicle and drove away with him:
Later in the day, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) issued a statement claiming that Lopez and Ledezma were taken back into custody because the two men were planning to escape house arrest. The TSJ’s statement partially reads:
We received official information from intelligence sources that revealed an escape plan from these citizens, and as a result and with the urgency demanded by the case the corresponding cautionary procedures were taken.
Despite the TSJ’s official reason, it is likely that the two men were taken back into prison because they both published YouTube videos in recent days calling for Venezuelans to continue to resist the Maduro regime.
National Assembly president Julio Borges reacted to the allegation that the two men were attempting to escape by calling the suggesting “ridiculous”, while Lopez’s lawyer stressed that his client would “never” consider running away.
Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reacted to today’s news by expressing his concern about the case and called once again on the Maduro regime to immediately release the two men. The High Commissioner said:
I am deeply concerned by the fact that opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma have once again been placed under custody by Venezuelan authorities after the revocation of their house arrest. I call on the government to immediately release all persons who have been detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression.
Lopez, Ledezma Have Already Served Years in Years
Leopoldo Lopez, the head of the Voluntad Popular (VP) opposition party, has been in prison since his arrest on February 18, 2014. He was accused by the Maduro regime of instigating the violence that occurred in Caracas on February 18 of that year, and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison at the conclusion of his trial in 2015.
Lopez’s arrest, trial and detention have earned universal condemnation from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. One of the prosecutors in the Lopez trial, Franklin Nieves, defected from Venezuela shortly after the end of the trial and told media that the entire case against Lopez had been fabricated, and that he was completely innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted.
Lopez was granted house arrest due to humanitarian reasons on July 8.
Antonio Ledezma was the popular mayor of Caracas until he was arrested by SEBIN officers at his office on February 20, 2015, having been accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Ledezma’s trial has stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire since, and while it has not concluded he has been confined to house arrest since February of last year.
Lopez Speaks in Pre-Recorded Message
Leopoldo Lopez’s wife, human rights activist Lilian Tintori, released a pre-recorded video that she made with her husband on July 17 in the event that Lopez were taken to prison again.
In the video, Lopez calls on Venezuelans to not give in to despair and sadness, and to continue the struggle against the Maduro regime.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Leopoldo Lopez: On February 12, 2014, I had to record a message like this because there was an arrest warrant against me only because I had spoken out against this corrupt, inefficient, anti-democratic, torturous and repressive regime. After that day, I spent six days in hiding and then decided to hand myself over to the unjust justice. From that day–February 18, 2014–until July 8 of 2017, I was a prisoner in the Ramo Verde prison. I spent a lot of time in isolation.
More than half the time that I spent there I spent under unjustified punishments. I was the victim of cruel treatment and abuses of power. They tried to humiliate me and to break me down. However, due to my determination to [continue] this struggle, both in terms of being part of the political vanguard but also in terms of simply wanting a better country, I understand that I have to [make sacrifices]. I remained firm, always accompanied by Lilian. I would hear her yelling in the distance [outside of the prison] when they would not let her in. I always knew that she was there, [along with] my children, my immediate family, my mother, my team, and millions of Venezuelans.
Today, three and a half years after that day, I am in my home. I am still a prisoner. Here is the electronic anklet that they put on me [raises foot to show electronic monitoring anklet]. However, the fact that I am a prisoner in my home makes me think that those who imprisoned me in 2014 and brought me back to my home could take me prisoner again. That is why, the day that I came home, I asked (VP director) Freddy Guevara to tell Venezuelans on my behalf that if my struggle for convictions, for a free and democratic society, placed me back in prison, then I would take that risk.
If you’re watching this video right now, it is precisely because that is what happened. They came back, and put me in prison again illegally. I am a prisoner of conscience. I am in prison for my thoughts and for wanting a better Venezuela. That is the state of Venezuela today. That is how our country is today. We are millions of Venezuelans who are imprisoned today.
I want to tell you all that this struggle is worth it. I am recording this message alongside Lilian, because we are in this together as a family. At the time that this video comes out, we may have already revealed that we have another reason here to fight for Venezuela [rubs Lilian’s belly, suggesting that she is pregnant]. This has been one of the best piece of news that I have received–no! The best piece of news that I have received over these past three and a half years. Despite this bond that we have as a family, I am willing to move forward and continue to tell Venezuelans about what I consider to be a way forward towards freedom and democracy.
I am recording this message today, July 17, a few days before a project to annihilate the republic takes shape: the National Constituent Assembly. I am convinced that this project should not take place. On July 16, yesterday, we got a clear message, a mandate that was very clear: to reject the Constituent Assembly and to move ahead towards a democratic republic through the renewal of public institutions and free elections for all Venezuelans. This way, which was put forward by Venezuelans on July 16, is the one that we should follow and the one that I invite all of you to follow.
However, beyond the talking about the way forward, I want to talk to all of you from my heart. I want to talk to every Venezuelan, here and around the world, who wants to fight for a better Venezuela. Fighting for a better Venezuela is worthwhile.
Let us not give up our struggle. We must never surrender. We must never tire of wanting a better Venezuela. We must never stop dreaming, or stop being idealists. Let us never stop imaging that Venezuela which I’m sure all of you watching have imagined in your own way. You’ve imagined better hospitals, schools, highway, markets. You’ve imagined a prosperous life, and the ability to have social mobility. You have visualized graduating from university, and seeing your children graduate from university. You have visualized Venezuela’s fields full of the fruits of our labour, a Venezuela full of opportunities and jobs. Each of you [has done this] in your own way, depending on your expectations. But we all share that idea that we can be a better country.
Whenever you feel sad, defrauded, and frustrated by what is happening, I invite you to stick to that idea: that we can have a better Venezuela. I am sending you a message of optimism, strength and faith, so that we may make sure to stay on the right side of this history that we are writing, which is the history of a people who are fighting for a free and democratic Venezuela where all rights belong to all people.
Be strong, brothers and sisters. Be strong, and have faith. Long live the people of Venezuela. Gloria al bravo pueblo que el yugo lanzo [a line from the national anthem; it means, “Glory to the brake people who shook off the yoke”].
God bless our country, Venezuela.
National Assembly Deputies Meet to Discuss Steps Forward
The National Assembly held a session today in order to discuss the next steps for the opposition after Sunday’s Constituent Assembly vote.
During today’s parliamentary sessions, legislators spoke in defiance of the Maduro regime, and attempted to bring a sense of institutional normalcy to a country that threatens to be torn apart in chaos.
On the possibility that the regime might try to replace the National Assembly with the Constituent Assembly, National Assembly vice president Freddy Guevara said:
The only way that [the regime] will bring an end to parliament is if they kill all 112 [opposition] deputies and their replacements (…) [the regime] might take over this building, they may evict us with bullets, but they will never take our seats because we are the true representatives of the will of the people of Venezuela.
Today’s parliamentary session was attended by the ambassadors of Spain, the United Kingdom, France, and Mexico in a show of international solidarity with the legislature. Below, the ambassadors at the National Assembly today:
PSUV Deputies Leave Regime Bloc, Join Opposition’s
PSUV deputies German Ferrer, Ivonne Tellez and Eustoquio Contreras used today’s National Assembly meeting to announce that they had defected from the regime’s parliamentary bloc, the Gran Polo Patriotico [the Great Patriotic Bloc), and that they would be joining the opposition’s bloc.
The three deputies also formed their own bloc, the Bloque Parlamentario Socilista [Parliamentary Socialist Bloc]. Deputy Contreras spoke at the legislature today on the move, saying:
We are socialists, and we are defending Chavez’s ideals. We share the strategic goals of every chavista, but we have differences [with the PSUV] about how to administrate [matters] day-to-day in the dynamic climate in which Venezuela lives.
Contreras also said that the defecting deputies disagreed with the regime over holding the Constituent Assembly. He said:
We [PSUV deputies] were never consulted about this, and neither were the Venezuelan people who have the original sovereign power.
The defections are the first sign of a fracture within the PSUV at the National Assembly over Maduro’s continued drive towards authoritarianism.
CNE Rector: We Violated Our Own Rules With Constituent Assembly Vote
Rector Rondon, one of the heads of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), admitted today that he organization which he co-leads violated so many of its own internal regulations during Sunday’s Constituent Assembly vote that it is impossible to tell if fraud was committed or not.
Rondon explained that the CNE conducted 10 fewer auditing processes for the Constituent Assembly election than it did in the 2015 parliamentary elections, and that many of it internal rules meant to prevent voter fraud were overlooked. Rondon said:
The measures that make our electoral system a robust on were for the most part bent and in some cases even eliminated.
Rondon took particular issue with the fact that Sunday’s election did not make use of indelible ink, which is a low-tech and time-tested method of preventing voter fraud on election day. As well, Rondon pointed out that the fact that the CNE allowed people to vote in any voting centre in the municipality–rather than at the one in which they were registered–obviously opened the door for fraud.
Rondon also pointed out that in previous elections, the CNE posts the results of the vote on its website for public scrutiny. However, this time, the CNE presented the results of the election directly to Maduro himself first before making them available to the public. On the fact that the CNE has not made available any of the information that it usually provides after an election, Rondon said:
The CNE must publish not only the final voter turnout rates and the names of the people who won. It should also present to the entire country the audit sheets with the total number of votes from every voting table, and the total number of votes earned by each candidate.
The CNE–which is controlled by five rectors, four of which are openly pro-regime–claims that 8 million people voted in Sunday’s election, but opposition and independent observers claim that less than half that amount cast ballots.
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