Merida, 30th April 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A key organiser of the Venezuelan opposition’s barricade groups, and a suspect in the shooting of a prominent revolutionary figure have been arrested in separate incidents, according to authorities.
President Nicolas Maduro stated that weapons had been seized during the first arrest, and accused the unnamed organiser dubbed El Aviado” (the Aviator) of “seeking an armed insurrection against Venezuelan democracy”.
“48 hours ago we captured one of the brains of the barricader insurrection ... [that aimed to] overthrow the government during the months of February, March and April,” Maduro stated yesterday.
The president indicated that the organiser is cooperating with authorities. “[El Aviador] is talking, and is saying everything,” he stated.
“He was paying the snipers who killed National Guards (GNB)...and wounded I don’t know how many hundreds of Venezuelans, “he said.
At least 41 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in political violence since opposition barricades spread to around six of Venezuela’s major cities in February.
“They wanted to create a civil war. But here, there was no civil war, there was no coup nor will there be a coup,” Maduro stated.
In a separate announcement, interior minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres stated that a different unidentified individual has been arrested in connection to the shooting and death of the president of the municipal council of Caracas’s Libertador municipality, Eliecer Otaiza. The body of the prominent Chavista figure and former intelligence chief was found riddled with bullets on Saturday on the outskirts of Caracas.
According to Rodriguez, Otaiza was murdered under “very strange circumstances” after his vehicle was stopped by an armed group.
“[The vehicle] was approached by several armed individuals, they stopped the vehicle, beat him savagely and then abandoned it”.
Otaiza attempted to fight his assailants, but was shot four times, according to Rodriguez. He also stated that police believe they may have already identified the other assailants.
The minister stated Otaiza had been “executed”, but didn’t give any indication of a possible motive. However, yesterday Maduro said that opponents of the government could be behind the killing.
“Let's not forget the context of the last few months,” Maduro stated. “There's no such thing as a casual coincidence,” he said.
A funeral service was held for Otaiza earlier today.
A further ten people have been charged in relation to opposition protests over the weekend, a lawyer for the prison monitor Foro Penal has stated, according to Ultimas Noticias.
Members of the group face charges including incitement and conspiracy, according to the head of the Foundation for Due Process, Jackeline de Guevara. One individual also faces charges related to the possession of explosives, according to Guevara.
The arrestees were among more than 20 people who were detained by authorities in Caracas on Saturday, amid fresh clashes between security forces and violent anti-government groups.
According to Rodriguez, clashes began when small groups attempted to erect barricades in some parts of Caracas, after thousands of opposition supporters marched peacefully through the city. Security forces reportedly used tear gas to disperse the violent groups, which fought back with molotov cocktails.
One group also attacked GNB troops. According to Rodriguez, some of the detainees were captured after they tried to escape authorities through private housing.
“They [anti-government groups] would climb into houses, invading the privacy of people, their homes; but the same people in the neighbourhood facilitated the capture of these terrorists,” he said.
The minister stated that some locals “grabbed these people and gave them to the National Guard”.
Eight minors were among the detainees. Rodriguez accused opposition groups of “manipulating” the juveniles into being “used as mules to go unnoticed by the police”.
“In their backpacks, instead of carrying notebooks, they were carrying petrol bombs, nails, improvised caltrops, and explosives used by the terrorists,” Rodriguez stated.
“Parents must be alert, they should know that social networks are calling children to commit violent acts,” he stated.
According to authorities, all minors detained on Saturday have since been released. On Tuesday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz stated that no minors are currently being held by Venezuelan authorities.
“There are teens who were arrested on suspicion of committing crimes, and we are investigating these crimes, but the minors have been released. No juvenile is being detained,” Ortega stated.
The attorney general also stated that her office has received 145 allegations of human rights abuses against security forces. The latest response by the government to accusations of human rights violations has been the arrest of new suspects in connection to the death of student protester Geraldine Moreno.
Moreno was allegedly shot dead by GNB personnel in February. Three arrest warrants have been issued in connection to the shooting, Ortega stated.
The attorney general pledged to ensure all potential cases of human rights abuses are investigated, but warned protesters that the government will continue to take action against violent groups.
“The state has had to act against [violent demonstrations] that threaten stability, and are against life and peace,” Ortega stated.
Throughout the week security forces have continued to dismantle barricades in hotspots nationwide, including in the capital and the Andean states.
Authorities have begun large scale operations to remove barricades in the east of Caracas, while the barricade hotbed of Merida city has already been mostly cleared of barricades. Last week hundreds of volunteers joined security forces in a citywide offensive to clear Merida’s main roads of fortified barricades. Today soldiers continued to patrol some parts of the city, and the street cleaning operation is still underway.
However, authorities in Tachira state have warned that anti-government groups are continuing hit-and-run attacks, after nine public buses were torched in the state on Tuesday, according to General Vladimir Padrino. A vehicle belonging to the GNB was also torched in Baruta, Caracas on Tuesday, according to government sources.
Rodriguez said that authorities will “continue working permanently” to counter political violence.
“There is a small radical group, a minority, still trying to create chaos [and] violence. But today, we tell Venezuelans ... that we have absolutely defeated these groups,” he stated.
“The only option is to take the path of peace, coexistence,” Rodriguez stated.
However, the wife of detained far right-wing figure Leopoldo Lopez has issued new calls for protests. The opposition’s demonstrations have waned in recent weeks, with smaller turnouts than in February. However, Lilian Tintori stated that “political change is coming”.