National Assembly VP Detained and 55 Armed Forces Officers Expelled in Attempted Putsch Fallout in Venezuela

Three more lawmakers also had their immunity from prosecution revoked on Wednesday.

By Paul Dobson
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National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano (R) was detained by authorities after being accused of being involved in the failed coup attempt of April 30. (Notitotal)
National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano (R) was detained by authorities after being accused of being involved in the failed coup attempt of April 30. (Notitotal)

Merida, May 9, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities have arrested National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano, accusing him of conspiracy and treason for his role in the April 30 attempted military putsch.

Zambrano was one of the first politicians on the scene to support self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido and fugitive opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in their call for a military uprising to oust the Maduro government.

The Democratic Action lawmaker was detained around 18.30 Wednesday evening by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN) upon leaving his party’s headquarters in La Florida district of Caracas.

Following his alleged refusal to get out of his car, officers were forced to use a tow truck to take Zambrano to the Helicoide detention facility, where it is believed he continues to be held. Authorities claim he was leaving the party offices with over US $9,000 in his pocket.

Zambrano had had his parliamentary immunity from prosecution revoked the day before by the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) following a Supreme Court ruling. Apart from treason and conspiracy, Zambrano is also charged with civil rebellion, usurpation of responsibilities, criminal association, public instigation to disobey the laws, and “continued hatred.”

Edgar Zambrano arrives at the Altamira Overpass early April 30, greeting Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido.

Speaking minutes after the arrest on his live TV program, ANC President Diosdado Cabello confirmed the detention.

“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested (…) [Zambrano and his colleagues] will have to answer before the courts (…) There will be justice,” Cabello told viewers.

Self-declared “Interim President” and President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido was also quick to respond, calling the arrest “a kidnapping” aimed at dismantling the National Assembly’s leadership. Venezuela’s National Assembly has been in contempt in court since 2016 following its refusal to adhere to a Supreme Court order to disincorporate three deputies under investigation for electoral fraud.

On Tuesday, six other opposition deputies had their parliamentary immunity lifted by the ANC for their alleged role in the coup. On Wednesday, lawmakers Freddy Superlano (Barinas State), Juan Mejia (Miranda State) and Sergio Vergara (Tachira State) were added to the list. All three belong to Guaido’s and Lopez’s far right Popular Will party. AN President Juan Guaido also had his immunity revoked in April, with the total now reaching eleven opposition leaders open to potential criminal charges.

Zambrano’s arrest marks the first legal action taken following the April 30 failed coup. Some of those accused have decided to flee, with Richard Blanco taking refuge in the Argentinian embassy and Marianela Magallanes Lopez and Americo de Grazia in the Italian one. Leopoldo Lopez also chose to evade potential new charges against him on April 30, moving into the Spanish ambassador’s residence.

The detention of Zambrano was rapidly rejected by the US government, who threatened Caracas should he not be released “immediately.”

“The arbitrary detention of the deputy by the oppressive security forces of Maduro in Venezuela is illegal and inexcusable. Maduro and his accomplices are directly responsible for the safety of Zambrano. If he is not immediately freed, there will be consequences,” tweeted the Washington-administered US “Virtual” Embassy in Caracas.

The European Union also spoke out against the arrest, calling it “politically motivated” and urging “respect” for parliamentary immunity. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt likewise claimed the arrest was a “clear violation of the constitution.”

Maduro expels 55 officers from Armed Forces

Equally on Wednesday, President Maduro issued a presidential decree which demoted and expelled 55 Armed Forces officials accused of being involved in the April 30 uprising.

Those punished included five lieutenant colonels, four majors, four captains, six lieutenants, and 35 sergeants. Following the defeat of the attempted coup, the Armed Forces vowed to remain loyal to the government, with President Maduro leading military exercises and visiting military bases in the following days.

Two prominent officers were amongst those expelled: Division General Manuel Christopher Figuera, who was SEBIN chief until being replaced on April 30; and National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Ilich Sanchez, who was in charge of the command post at the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Video footage shows Sanchez on the Altamira Overpass on April 30 calling on other soldiers to “come join us.”

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National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Ilich Sanchez speaking to Juan Guaido on April 30 on the Altamira Overpass (Efecto Cocuyo)
National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Ilich Sanchez speaking to Juan Guaido on April 30 on the Altamira Overpass (Efecto Cocuyo)

For his part, Figueroa, who had been in charge of the SEBIN since October, is accused of authorising the escape of Leopoldo Lopez from house arrest that morning. His current whereabouts are unknown.

US Vice President Mike Pence announced that sanctions against Figueroa would be lifted Tuesday. He also called on more Venezuelan soldiers to follow Figueroa’s example, promising “incentives” should they rebel.

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