Venezuela threatens to jail Capriles

The Guardian, CARACAS

Sun, Apr 28, 2013 - Page 7

The fallout from Venezuela’s disputed presidential election continued to spread this week as the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threatened to jail the opposition candidate and arrested a US filmmaker accused of working for US intelligence.

While electoral officials prepared a wider audit of the narrow vote on April 14, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles added to the tension on Thursday by demanding scrutiny of registers containing voters’ signatures and fingerprints.

Capriles has refused to accept the declared result, according to which he was defeated by less than 2 percent. Alleging thousands of cases of vote-rigging and other electoral law violations, he called on his supporters to stage peaceful cacerolazo — a popular form of protest where people bang on pots and pans.

The protests have been called off, but the government said the demonstrations last week led to nine deaths, 78 people injured and the burning down of clinics and party headquarters. This too is disputed, but the ruling United Socialist party initiated an investigation in the national assembly this week into whether Capriles should be held responsible.

“The deaths ordered by the fascist murderer Capriles cannot go unpunished,” National Assembly of Venezuela President Diosdado Cabello said on Twitter on Thursday. “The investigations are going forward.”

Venezuelan Minister of the Penitentiary System Iris Valera said she had a cell waiting for the opposition leader.

“Capriles is the intellectual author of these crimes and will not go unpunished,” Varela said on state television. “The only good news for you is that the prison waiting for you, Capriles Radonski, is not like the ones we inherited from the previous governments.”

Capriles said he was ready to go to jail rather than accept what he describes as a “stolen” election, but he denied instigating violence.

“If they want to bring me to trial what’s their reason?” Capriles said on Wednesday. “For asking that the vote boxes be opened? For asking people to bang pots and pans? If that’s the cost, then do it fast. Don’t keep threatening.”

Capriles spent 119 days in prison for his alleged involvement in a violent protest outside the Cuban embassy after a failed coup against late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2002.

The ruling camp has promised to audit the vote, yet said the result is “irreversible.”

Capriles supporters say the audit will not be valid and will be boycotted by his movement unless it includes detailed information from voting notebooks, as well as checks on whether people voted more than once and whether votes were registered in the names of dead people.

The ruling party and its supporters believe the unrest is the latest attempt by the US to delegitimize a hostile government that is sitting on the world’s biggest oil resources. The US has been reluctant to recognize Maduro as president and called for a recount.

Earlier on Thursday, authorities detained a US citizen, Timothy Hallet Tracy, who they accuse of trying to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed US intelligence agency.

“We detected the presence of an American who began developing close relations with these [students],” Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Miguel Rodriguez said in a press conference. “His actions clearly show training as an intelligence agent, there can be no doubt about it. He knows how to work in clandestine operations.”

Rodriguez said Tracy, 35, from Michigan, had received financing from a foreign non-profit organization and had redirected those funds toward student organizations.

The ultimate aim was to provoke “civil war,” he said.