Caracas, February 23rd 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) A Venezuelan judge has found sufficient evidence linking arrested Caracas Mayor, Antonio Ledezma, to a conspiracy against the national government in order to proceed to trial, the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed.
The longtime rightwing politician and current Mayor of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas was arrested late last Thursday evening by Venezuelan intelligence agencies (SEBIN) for his purported role in plotting to destabilise the democratically elected administration of Nicolas Maduro, United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). An official hearing took place on Friday.
“In the initial hearing, national public prosecutors 20ª and district attorney 16° from the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, Katherine Harington, Yeison Moreno and Jose Orta respectively, charged the Mayor with allegedly committing the crimes of conspiracy and association. The said crimes are described and sanctioned in the Penal Code and the Law Against Organized Crime and Financing Terrorism,” reads the announcement on the Public Prosector’s Office homepage this Monday.
Ledezma has now been transferred to the National Centre for Military Prosecutions in Ramo Verde just outside of the capital where he will now await trial. He joins political ally and fellow leader of the rightwing opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, who was also arrested last year due to his involvement in plans to overthrow the government.
Ledezma’s arrest appears to be closely connected to Lopez’s case and a coordinated attempt by elements of the country’s rightwing to depose the national government.
In 2014, Lopez is known to have led the so called “exit” plan, which fuelled over 6 months of violent armed protests in the country. As a response to his calls to oust the democratically elected government, Lopez’s supporters erected “barricades” in cities across the country, blocking the free movement of citizens, food and fuel, as well as emergency medical services.
While the actions led to the violent deaths of 43 people, it later emerged that a small group of anti-government militants had preplanned a series of terrorist attacks in the midst of the violence. Linked to Colombian paramilitaries, the ringleader of the network, Lorent Saleh, was extradited by Colombian authorities to Venezuela last year to face charges.
In his upcoming trial, Ledezma’s lawyer, Omar Estacio, will have to answer to allegations that the Mayor was involved in Saleh’s terrorist agenda, which included bombing key bridges, public buildings and carrying out a series of assassinations against leftwing political leaders.
“This arrest is linked to the cases of Lorent Gómez Saleh, Gabriel Valles, Ronny Navarro, Gerardo Carrero and Renzo Prieto who are currently charged with an alleged link to conspiracy plans,” explains the Public Prosecution statement.
Ledezma is named several times in a series of Skype videos disclosed in the wake of Saleh’s arrest, which show the militant revealing the Mayor as a chief ally and source of critical support for his “resistance” movement.
“He was essential. He has something important. In fact, the politician who has most supported the resistance has always been him, that’s why he was our candidate for the presidency,” says Saleh in the video.
Key in the upcoming trial against Ledezma will be the confessions of two detainees who are alleged to have named him as complicit in the conspiracy during questioning. While one of these confessions is said to have been elicited from Saleh himself, the other is reported to have come from one of the several aviation officials arrested earlier in February linked to the so-called “Blue Coup” attempt.
Just two weeks ago, Venezuelan authorities unearthed a plan by rogue elements of the airforce to stage a coup against the government by bombing a series of strategic targets in Caracas with a Super Tucano counter-insurgency plane. Both Ledezma and Lopez had signed and circulated a call for a “National Transition Agreement” and regime change just 24 hours before the planned coup.
According to the Law Against Organized Crime and Financing Terrorism, the crimes of conspiracy and association which are levelled at Ledezma warrant a sentence of between eight and sixteen years, although his attorney has claimed that he is potentially facing “28 years” to Venezuela’s private press.
A law graduate from the Central University of Venezuela, Estacio also acted as representation for trade union leader, Carlos Ortega, when he was charged with conspiring against the state for his role in the 2002 coup which saw the president at the time, Hugo Chavez, temporarily removed from office for 47 hours.
The Mayor's arrest has generated controvery, both at home and abroad. In the Latin American region, Colombian President, Manuel Santos, was the first head of state to react news od Ledezma's detention. Emphasising the Venezuelan government’s right to autonomy, he requested that Ledezma’s entitlement “to due process” be respected.
The head of state’s response was eagerly anticipated and came after former Colombian Conservative Minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez, petitioned the Santos administration to call an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in order to respond to Ledezma’s arrest.
“It is our responsibility to safeguard the democratic order in the region,” she continued.
Although, Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS, has officially described the arrest as “alarming,” it is the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) which will be playing the leading role in mediation between the Venezuelan government and opposition.
Over the coming week, an UNASUR commission made up of representatives from Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador is expected to touch down in Caracas.
“Our role isn’t to give our opinion about the facts… We are working on the scenarios that we have to work on,” stated UNASUR Secretary General, Ernest Samper, who attributed the need for mediation in Venezuela to international interference, a lack of internal dialogue and social and economic problems.
“UNASUR is enforcing the democratic institutionally of Venezuela, which is threatened by the aforementioned factors, which are not just common colds. The fact that we are doing it discretely is another matter,” he added.
Calls for dialogue follows on from “eyewitness” statements repeated en masse in the international media that Ledezma had been violently treated during his detention by the Venezuelan intelligence services.
The claims have been strongly disputed by the government which broadcast a video of the arrest on state television this this Monday. The footage shows Ledezma politely agreeing to accompany authorities before being escorted from the office by SEBIN guards.
Since his election in April 2013, Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, has faced a series of unconstitutional attempts to overthrow his government. He maintains that the opposition were aware of the latest plan to oust his government.