CARACAS: Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro has been arrested by intelligence agents “violating his parliamentary immunity,” the opposition-controlled legislature said on Friday (Apr 26).
Caro was previously detained in January 2017, accused of plotting an armed revolt against President Nicolas Maduro, before he was released in June last year.
“The dictatorship has again arbitrarily detained the deputy @gilbercaro violating his parliamentary immunity,” said the National Assembly, the only branch of Venezuela’s government not controlled by Maduro, on its Twitter account.
It said it was “holding the usurper regime responsible for his life and integrity.”
Caro is from the same party as opposition leader Juan Guaido, the National Assembly speaker who launched a challenge to Maduro’s authority in January by declaring himself acting president, a move backed by more than 50 countries including the United States.
“We’re trying to find out where he is. Gilber has been kidnapped,” Guaido told journalists.
Caro, 45, was arrested in a restaurant in the Las Mercedes neighbourhood of the capital Caracas, fellow deputy Adriana Pichardo said in a news conference.
“We have no idea what this arrest is for, we think it could be another set-up, an attempt to implicate him in another macabre plot.”
Pichardo said the agents “destroyed cameras to leave no evidence of any kind” at the restaurant.
Caro was one of four people – alongside two opposition councillors and a retired general – arrested over two years ago for what the government then termed “a terrorist plan of destabilisation.”
Those arrests came just days after parliament had passed a motion declaring that Maduro had effectively “abandoned his post” by failing to tackle the country’s economic crisis.
This year the National Assembly and Guaido branded Maduro a usurper over his controversial re-election last year in polls widely criticised as rigged.
Crisis-wracked Venezuela has suffered five years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines.
Many salaries and savings have been rendered worthless by hyperinflation the International Monetary Fund says will reach a staggering 10 million percent this year.
Some 2.7 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
790 POLITICAL PRISONERS
Although held for 17 months, Caro was never convicted of any charge.
He was among 40 opposition members conditionally released in June 2018 following a decision by the Constituent Assembly, a controversial body with absolute powers created by Maduro to sideline the National Assembly after he’d lost control of the legislature.
In 2018, the Constituent Assembly ordered more than 100 opposition members released from prison, although many with conditions such as a ban on leaving the country or speaking to the press.
Rights group Foro Penal says there are 790 political prisoners in Venezuela’s jails.
In October, a Venezuelan military judge who was seeking asylum in Colombia apologized to Caro for having ordered his detention.
Caro’s arrest comes just over a month after that of Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, accused of belonging to a “terrorist cell.”
Pichardo said Caro’s arrest was an attempt by the government to pressure the opposition into abandoning its planned march on Labour Day, May 1, which Guaido has said will be “the biggest in the history” of Venezuela.
“This arbitrary detention, this kidnapping, is an attempt to make us bend, to make us retreat from what will be one of the biggest marches,” said Pichardo.
Before then, Guaido and Maduro are due to lead rival demonstrations on Saturday.
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