During a regime event late this afternoon, Maduro named PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello the head of an anti-terrorism task force that is responsible for cracking down on “terrorist groups” that are attempting to overthrow his regime. The appointment to the shadowy task force is likely to give Cabello the power to eliminate regime opponents at will.
While making the announcement, Maduro explained that the measure had to take place within the union civico-militar [civil-military union], which is one of the central tenets of Bolivarianism. The civil-military union is a philosophy that calls for the erosion of the boundary between the military and civilian sphere, in effect giving the army more influence over civil society than would exist in a democratic country.
Maduro made the announcement by saying:
I’m asking you to prepare our popular forces, to prepare ourselves in the civil-military union [sic], that we remain alert, that we not get comfortable (…) I’m ordering our colleague Diosdado Cabello and naming you [sic] responsible for the plan for the defense of peace in Venezuela, of sovereignty and of the electoral triumph of the presidency of the Republic [sic]. Diosado Cabello will be the head of the popular plan for the anti-coupist, anti-terrorist defense.
According to Maduro, Cabello is now in charge of protecting Venezuela against a set of threats, including:
… any coup attempt, any provocation from the Colombian oligarchy on the border, against any terrorist group that tries to come up again. Any terrorist group that comes up, we’ll come at it with everything, buddy, with everything.
Regime Arrests Dissident Octogenarian
Officers with the SEBIN, the Maduro regime’s political police, arrested Enrique Aristeguieta Gramcko early in this overnight hours inside his home. Gramcko, who is 85 years old, rose to fame in 1958 when a political organization he was a part of helped to overthrow Marcos Perez Jimenez, Venezuela’s last dictator.
Gramcko announced his imminent arrest through his Twitter account this morning:
The SEBIN is in my house looking for me.
Later in the day, SEBIN sources confirmed that Gramcko is currently being held in El Helicoide, their Caracas headquarters. Gramcko’s lawyer, speaking to reporters today, said that the SEBIN agents who raided his client’s home did not have a warrant for his arrest. It’s not clear at this time why Gramcko was arrested.
A lifelong supporter of democratic governance, Gramcko has been a harsh critic of the regime for years, and has gone as far as to argue that Maduro is a more brutal dictator that Perez Jimenez ever was. According to PanAm Post, Gramcko once said:
Perez Jimenez was a simple authoritarian dictator. [He headed] an authoritarian government. This [Maduro’s] dictatorship is totalitarian, and there’s a big difference between a totalitarian and an authoritarian dictatorship. The totalitarian one is much harsher because it aims to remain in power ad infinitum.
Gramcok’s arrested elicited a quick response from the international community. The United Nations Human Rights Council tweeted the following message on the case:
Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, tweeted:
#2Feb we demand the immediate release of [Gramcko], that [the government] release information about his whereabouts and that his rights be respected. This is another sign of the arbitrary nature of the dictatorship of [Nicolas Maduro] trying to silence dissident voices #Venezuela
Gramcko’s is the latest in a wave of arrests targeting regime dissidents in recent days. According to the Foro Penal Venezolano, a local NGO, the regime has imprisoned 14 individuals for political reasons since January 29.
Univision Releases Audio from Perez Raid
Univision published an article today that includes approximately six minutes of audio allegedly recorded radio communications among state security forces as they raided Oscar Perez’s safe house in El Junquito on January 15.
While the quality of the audio makes it impossible to discern some of the communications, a common thread throughout the recording is that the authorities were concerned about ceasing fire on the house given that they were expecting Perez and his companions to surrender.
For example, in one section of the recording, an officer says:
No one shoot. Same for those of us here in the house: no one shoot. They’re handing themselves over.
At another point, an officer said:
There’s a negotiation happening. No one shoot. There are four commandos inside the home and the rest of us are at the entrance. No one shoot.
The negotiation appears to have been a tense affair, given that the authorities believed that Perez or one of his companions had a grenade and were perhaps willing to use it. An officer said:
No one shoot, because we’re at the most difficult point [in the negotiation] because they have a grenade and we’re here inside the house. We’re face to face. We could all be killed.
Towards the end of the audio, however, it appears as is the negotiation has been successful and that Perez and his companions have surrendered. An officer says:
There’s a negotiation with Alpha Six [likely the officer in charge]. There’s a negotiation with Alpha Six. No one shoot. Alpha Six, they’re handing themselves over to Alpha Six.
Then, the house is declared under control of the authorities as an officer says:
It’s been taken. The house has been taken. Our comrades have now taken the house.
The audio does not answer any of the lingering questions from the January 15 raid. Throughout the raid, Perez posted a series of videos on his Instagram in which he repeatedly claimed that he was attempting to surrender to the authorities, but that they were unwilling to accept. In his last videos, a distraught Perez says that they authorities were “trying to kill us”, fueling rumours that he and his companions were executed by the authorities.
Minister of Defense Blames US for Venezuela’s Problems
Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez reacted today to comments by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday, in which the diplomat suggested that it might be best for Venezuela if Maduro were to peacefully leave power.
… there are problems [in Venezuela], but who is the cause of the problems? Who is economically blocking whom?
The Maduro regime maintains that the country’s problems are caused by an “economic war” that is being waged against the country by a vast network of conspirators, including Washington. Talk of the economic war goes back years, even though the U.S. government only placed financial sanctions on the Maduro regime in August of last year, at a point when the country’s economic collapse was already well underway.
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