Venezuelan intelligence agents detained and then freed the new president of the National Assembly in what closely resembled a kidnapping, showcasing possible conflicts within a force known for its human rights violations and participation in criminal activities.
Agents of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN) on January 13 intercepted a vehicle carrying Juan Guaidó on a highway connecting the capital Caracas with northern Vargas state, the BBC reported.
In a confusing series of events captured on video, the National Assembly president from the opposition Voluntad Popular party can be seen being taken from his car, handcuffed and forced into a police vehicle.
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The incident drew immediate condemnation at home and abroad. The administration of President Nicolás Maduro issued a press release saying that Guaidó’s detention had been unilaterally carried out by members of the intelligence police. Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez assured that those responsible would be held accountable, adding that the incident had become a “false positive [by the opposition] … to pay for an aggressive campaign against the legitimate, constitutional and democratic government of Venezuela.”
The recent events came after Maduro was accused of having usurped the presidency as international organizations and different countries questioned the legitimacy of his election. Now at the head of the National Assembly -- the only Venezuelan political institution recognized abroad -- Guaidó became a prime target for the intelligence police and their masters.
Following this incident, Guaidó was recognized as "president in charge" of Venezuela by former presidents of Ibero-American countries while McClatchy reports that US President Donald Trump may be considering doing the same.
InSight Crime Analysis
Venezuela’s intelligence police have acted as the enforcement arm for the political persecution of those opposed to the Maduro regime. Arrests have been carried out using commando-style operations declared by national and international organizations as arbitrary detentions -- as was the case with Guaidó -- and are often accompanied by torture and other extreme abuses.
The headquarters of Venezuela’s political police are detention centers for political prisoners. There has been extensive documentation of the unit’s alleged use of torture. In a still unclear incident from October 2018, opposition councilman Fernando Albán died while in the custody of the intelligence police. The official version of events suggested he committed suicide. However, others have spoken of a possible murder, which is certainly plausible given the many accusations against the intelligence police for their alleged mistreatment of detainees.
Indeed, there are countless allegations of extortion and kidnappings carried out by its officers. Some have alleged that agents even use official facilities to carry out their criminal operations.
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On the other hand, some believe that the detention and immediate release of Guaidó could be the result of internal fighting between opposing factions, a reflection of current tensions in Venezuela. Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo López said in an audio recording that what happened to Guaidó reveals the “internal breakdown and fragility in the chain of command” within the intelligence police, as well as other police and military institutions.
Guaidó himself also came to this conclusion. “There is no chain of command in the security forces,” he said. But beyond who was behind Guaidó’s detention, the incident appears to have been an intimidation attempt using a police force characterized by its criminal actions.
The young member of parliament has become a stone in the shoe for Maduro’s increasingly corrupt regime.