Merida, April 9th 2014 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Authorities in Venezuela's western state of Merida say they have arrested three armed opposition protesters, as violent anti-government groups continue to vandalise public assets.
According to state governor Alexis Ramirez, the protesters were carrying a rifle and an improvised shotgun-like weapon.
The trio were captured by authorities on Avenue Las Americas – a main road that has been repeatedly blocked by opposition barricades.
The governor claimed the armed group raises concerns of possible paramilitary activity in Merida state. However, he stated that the authorities will continue to work to remove barricades.
“In the coming hours, we will continue to report on the progress of our actions for the complete restoration of peace and order in the city,” Ramirez stated.
Merida city has been hit with violent anti-government demonstrations since January, when opposition groups began roadblocks on Las Americas. Although barricades have since spread to other parts of the city, semi-permanent roadblocks on Las Americas remain among the most fortified in the city. Public transport has also been repeatedly targeted by hit-and-run attacks.
Yesterday, two of Merida's trolleybus stations were also closed after they were attacked with molotov cocktails, according to the Minister for Land Transport, Haiman El Troudi. The minister described the incident as a “terrorist attack”.
“Despite the terrorist actions, the Merida trolleybus is running,” El Troudi stated.
"Paramilitaries" on the Barricades
Today, President Nicolas Maduro stated that the government has evidence of paramilitary involvement in opposition barricades.
The president pointed to last week's arrest of Gabriel Reyes at an opposition barricade in San Cristobal – a state neighbouring Merida. Reyes is wanted by Interpol for alleged narcotics smuggling, according to the Venezuelan government.
“He is one of the most wanted drug traffickers by international authorities... A known drug dealer,” Maduro stated.
“[He is] wanted internationally. Where [was he] captured? Leading the barricades,” Maduro stated.
Maduro also said that another protester recently arrested in Barinas state is likewise wanted by Interpol.
“A man of Colombian nationality, Hugo Alberto Nuncira Soto was captured in Barinas,” Maduro stated.
“A member of the narcotrafficking criminal gang Los Urabeños in Colombia, dedicated to drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion,” Maduro said.
“[He is] wanted by Interpol with a red notice...he was leading barricaders and barricades,” he stated.
Maduro also said that another recently detained barricader, Ardinson Freire Mosquera was wanted by Venezuelan authorities for smuggling. The president described him as a “boss of the barricaders”.
Yet another alleged opposition protester was found within the last week carrying false “documents” while trying to leave the Zulia state capital, Maracaibo, according to Minister for Internal Affairs Miguel Rodriguez.
“He was once was seen at a roadblock,” Rodriguez stated.
“There must be justice and exemplary punishment to all those criminals who seek to fill our country with chaos and violence,” Maduro said.
In the latest anti-government violence, a truck belonging to state oil company PDVSA was torched in Carabobo state yesterday.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they were shot at by nearby snipers, according to Maduro.
No deaths or injuries have been reported in relation to the incident.
Incidents of street crime have also increased in wealthy areas of Caracas around barricades, interior minister Miguel Rodriguez stated yesterday.
According to Rodriguez, criminals are taking advantage of barricades to “seize the moment” to target pedestrians. The minister stated that “several thefts have been reported and an attempted kidnapping has been foiled” in Caracas' upmarket neighbourhoods.
Rodriguez's warning comes just days after Globovision journalist Nairobi Pinto was reportedly kidnapped. According to her father, Luis Pinto, she was taken by two gunmen outside her Caracas home on Sunday. Pinto has stated that he hasn't received any ransom demands, and called on the alleged kidnappers to “see sense” and release his daughter.
“I appeal to any human sensitivity they may have. Right now there is a home that has fallen apart following the disappearance of my daughter,” he stated.