Judge Linked to Leopoldo Lopez Trial Shot Dead in Venezuela

A judge involved in the sentencing of a prominent Venezuelan politician has been killed under mysterious circumstances, authorities announced Thursday.

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Nelson Antonio Moncada Gomez (L) was killed Wednesday, in what authorities suspect may have been a political assassination. (MPPRIJP/Handout)
Nelson Antonio Moncada Gomez (L) was killed Wednesday, in what authorities suspect may have been a political assassination. (MPPRIJP/Handout)
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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Puebla, Mexico, June 2, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A judge involved in the sentencing of a prominent Venezuelan politician has been killed under mysterious circumstances, authorities announced Thursday.

The judge, Nelson Antonio Moncada Gomez was gunned down in Caracas on Wednesday night, investigators have said. According to the public prosecutor’s office, Moncada was confronted by a group of armed assailants on his way home at around 10pm, shot multiple times and stripped of his belongings.

The motive of the killing is yet to be confirmed, though authorities haven’t ruled out the possibility Moncada may have been assassinated for political reasons.

“Judge Moncada was a member of the first chamber of the appeals court of the Caracas metropolitan criminal court circuit in 2016, and ratified the sentence imposed on Leopoldo Lopez,” Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said.

One of Venezuela’s most well known right-wing politicians, Lopez was sentenced to more than 13 years imprisonment in 2015 for his role in a wave of political violence the previous year. According to Reverol, Moncada also played a role in numerous other trials of individuals involved in the 2014 unrest.

“We haven’t ruled out the possibility that this was a motive of assassination – an assassin hired by the terrorist right to continue creating and sowing terror,” Reverol said.

President Nicolas Maduro responded to the killing by issuing condolences to Moncada’s family, before accusing opposition groups of involvement.

“We are already on our way to identifying the murderers, a group of guarimberos of the MUD, undoubtedly,” he alleged, referring to the country’s largest opposition coalition, the MUD.

‘Guarimbero’ is a term used in Venezuela to describe right-wing groups who barricade roads, and are often armed.

While some opposition leaders have criticised the guarumberos for using violence, Maduro accused the MUD itself of trying to destabilise the country.

“Who has promoted these hate crimes, this violence? Who broke the rules … of democracy, of coexistence? Who, during these eight weeks of April and May, has tried to lead the country to an escalation of civil war and total confrontation? … The Bolivarian government? We the Chavistas, the revolutionaries?” Maduro asked, making reference to the past eight weeks of opposition-led protest. 

He continued, “On the contrary, what we have done is to call for dialogue, for words, for peace.”

Death Toll Hits 70

Just hours after Moncada’s death was confirmed, another Venezuelan was killed under unclear circumstances. Forty six year old María Estefania Rodriguez was killed during clashes at an opposition barricade in Lara state on Thursday. Rodriguez herself wasn’t involved in the clashes, but was instead trying to cross the barricade when violence broke out, according to local media reports. One local news outlet, La Prensa de Lara, reported Rodriguez was shot in the chest, prompting speculation she may have been killed by security forces during a firefight with protesters.

Authorities say they are investigating the case.

In total, 70 people have now been killed amid protests since the latest wave of unrest in Venezuela began two months ago. According to data compiled by venezuelanalysis.com, 20 of the deaths may have been caused by opposition violence, while 10 are believed to have been linked to the actions of state security forces. Nearly half the deaths remain unaccounted for, with most taking place under unclear circumstances.