Venezuelan intelligence agents on Wednesday arrested the opposition mayor of the western city of San Cristobal, which has been a crucible of anti-government resistance and spawned the current wave of protests.
Then, hours later, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that San Diego Mayor Enzo Scarano, another opposition member, would be removed from his post and serve 10 months and 15 days in prison for disobeying a court order on Wednesday last week to keep protesters from barricading streets in his city.
The mayors joined opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is being held on charges of arson and conspiracy, as leading government opponents jailed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration since the unrest began last month.
The arrest of San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos was made in a Caracas hotel by agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, known by its Spanish initials SEBIN, according to his aide, Ronni Pavolini.
Ceballos, who was in Caracas for a meeting of opposition mayors, had been outspoken in his criticism of what he called repression by security forces in his city.
“They took him out of the hotel in Caracas and took him to Helicoide [SEBIN’s headquarters],” Pavolini said.
Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres confirmed the arrest later on state television.
“This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only did not meet his obligations as required by law and the constitution, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence in San Cristobal,” the minister said.
The anti-government protests that have shaken Venezuela for more than a month began early last month with students in San Cristobal.
The federal prosecutor’s office late on Wednesday said that, according to preliminary information, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo, 23, was killed while breaking up protests near a university in San Cristobal. He would be the fifth National Guardsmen killed during the protests.
Meanwhile, about 25km from San Cristobal, National Guardsmen firing plastic shotgun pellets and tear gas wounded at least 16 people in the town of Rubio as they cleared barricades that had been up for weeks, local officials said.
In other developments, Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday voted to start a process to strip opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado of her immunity so they could eventually bring charges against her for allegedly trying to destabilize the government.
Machado is scheduled to speak today at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington about the situation in Venezuela.
Because the Venezuelan government controls the country’s seat, Panama has offered Machado its seat to make her presentation to the regional body.