Caracas, May 9, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities have arrested the mayor of the Simón Rodríguez municipality in Anzoátegui state.
On Thursday, Ernesto Paraqueima was detained by members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and flown to Caracas to face charges.
Paraqueima drew the national spotlight following a leaked audio in which he said that a mural painted by autistic children in a shelter was “horrible and disgusting.” He went on to belittle the children for “having painted with their feet” and vowed to remove the art piece.
His comments sparked outrage and led the Venezuelan National Assembly to demand an investigation against the Simón Rodríguez mayor during a legislative session on Tuesday.
The following day, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced an arrest warrant against Paraqueima and later confirmed his arrest. He was charged with inciting hatred, violating the Law for the Protection of Children and Teenagers (LOPNNA) and restricting free trade.
The first charge is covered by the nation’s Anti-Hatred Law approved by the National Constituent Assembly in 2017. The final accusation relates to preceding complaints that the mayor was forcing certain businesses to close down.
On Saturday, after Paraqueima’s arraignment, the Attorney General’s Office requested that he await trial under house arrest, alleging that he suffers from clinical depression.
Paraqueima was chosen as mayor of the eastern Venezuela city,, in the November 2021 “mega-elections” on the ticket of the opposition “Democratic Alliance” coalition. He had served as mayor from 2004 to 2008 as part of the Chavista Fifth Republic Movement.
The politician’s second tenure in the municipality, centered around the town of El Tigre, has been marred by brash communications and recurring controversies. In recent months, Paraqueima has caused social media stirs by opening a brothel or gifting sex toys to his constituents. He has also launched tirades and threats against opponents in his weekly radio show.
Following his arrest, Venezuela’s Comptrolling Office banned Paraqueima from holding political office for 15 years. His post was taken by Lilys Osuna, likewise from the Democratic Alliance, who served as the president of the municipal council.
Paraqueima’s arrest and destitution were mostly cheered on social media. Still, there were also comments that his rights were trampled on and that public statements from officials violated the presumption of innocence.
Journalist Mari Pili Hernández stated on Twitter that “everything was wrong” in the case, and that the politician cannot be removed from his post just because he is facing charges. She warned that the present situation could set a precedent for others.