As the economic crisis in oil-rich Venezuela continues to unfold, its socialist government proceeds to arrest the most outspoken leaders of the opposition, arguably in an attempt to deflect attention from the shattering economy. The latest addition to the list is the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who was arrested on February 20 by federal agents under accusations of conspiracy and plotting an American-backed coup d’etat.
The mayor of the capital and Venezuela’s largest city is an important figure of the opposition, having been elected in 2009, the same year he staged a hunger strike to protest against President Hugo Chavez, the socialist leader who passed away in 2012 after naming Nicolas Maduro, the current president, as his successor.
Maduro, who publicly claims he is the heir of Chavez, and his government have been dealing with waves of protests and violence ever since they came to office. As the inflation rates reached an all-time high of 68 per cent, the insecurity became unbearable and Venezuelans queued for hours to buy bread, dairy and meat, the government seemed unable to alleviate the economic situation. The falling oil prices have deepened the crisis even more. With no signs of progress, the government is said to have attempted to distract attention from the crippled economy by attacking the opposition. Ledezma is now just the latest high-profile arrest, and his supporters fear that he will face the same fate as Leopoldo Lopez, another opposition leader who ran against Maduro in the elections and was incarcerated over a year ago under allegations of instigation to violence during the protests in the aftermath of the elections.
His daughter, currently in New York, where she has protested against her father’s arrest along with a dozen other people, has declared that she has not been able to contact her father since his arrest and that the government has disrespected him and infringed all of his human rights. She has declared, however, that Ledezma is trying to stay strong and he is going to keep fighting, his only fear being losing the country that he loves. While Venezuelan authorities in New York have not commented on the situation, Ledezma’s daughter and the opposition in Venezuela claim that the arrest is yet another abuse of the current socialist government.
Maduro, on the other hand, maintains that Ledezma was arrested by order of the attorney general’s office and will be tried for “crimes against the peace, security and constitution of the country.” along with Lopez and the other members of the opposition who are currently incarcerated.
The regime has come under heavy criticism for the suspicious arrests. Diego Arria declared that Ledezma’s incarceration “is a desperate act by a desperate regime that is seeking to veil the current social and political reality in Venezuela,” after joining Ledezma’s daughter for the protests on Monday. Richard Blanco, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly and a supporter of Ledezma who witnessed the arrest has described that it was very violent, with as many as 150 SEBIN agents (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service of Venezuela) who pushed, shoved and beat the mayor, destroying the doors as Ledezma was asking them to calm down in an attempt to find out what was going on.
As the International Monetary Fund predicts the Venezuelan economy will shrink by seven per cent this year, the protests and the violence increase along with the inflation rates and the government seems unable to deal with the country’s economic problems, choosing to focus on intimidating the opposition instead. The opposition leaders, despite the arrests, demand a change in the regime and a stop to the abuse, and the citizens of Venezuela seem to echo the need for a change as the poverty, insecurity and unemployment reach unbearable levels. The government’s response to the challenges remains to be seem, but the aggressive attacks on the opposition it has staged so far seem insufficient to address the crisis.