Friday, February 20, 2015

Caracas Mayor arrested on charge of promoting a coup against the Venezuela government

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

That quote comes from almost exactly a year ago, as months of protests driven by the hard-right faction of the conservative opposition in Venezuela were ramping up.

The Obama Administration instituted formal Sanctions against Venezuela late in 2014, making Venezuela the only other country in the Western Hemisphere besides Cuba subject to US sanctions.

Caracas Metropolitan District Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a leader in the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro and his ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), was arrested on charges of planning a coup against Maduro's government. The US State Department was quick to vocally criticize the government for Ledezma's arrest. (Roberta Jacobson: EE UU "profundamente" preocupado por "intimidación" a opositores Panorama 20.02.2015)

Ledezma is a member of the small Alianza Bravo Pueblo party. In a post last April I noted, "One major opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, is not explicitly supporting the far-right group led by Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado. But he paints the situation in hysterical terms to which the far right would be unlikely to object."

The Independent reports (Lamiat Sabin, Mayor Antonio Ledezma arrested and dragged out of office 'like a dog' by police in Venezuela 02/20/2015):

Last week, Mr Maduro named Mr Ledezma – who was elected as mayor in 2008 after beating a socialist candidate – among critics and Western powers he believes are enemies to his government.

The US state department called his accusations of coup-plotting “baseless and false”, and said they are to distract from Venezuela’s severe economic problems such as widespread shortages and inflation that reached 68% last year.
And the State Department knows hours after the arrest that the coup planning charges are “baseless and false” ... how? Because the NSA is monitoring every word and movement Ledezma has been making? Because the US is careful to coordinate carefully with all coup plotting in Venezuela?

Gladys Gutiérrez, President of the Venezuelan Supreme Constitutional Court, made a public statement telling the United States to stay out of Venezuelan politics, "Exigimos el cese a las agresiones contra el gobierno democráticamente electo, el Estado y el pueblo venezolano" ("We demand the cessation of the aggressions against the democratically elected government, the state and Venezuelan people"). (TSJ expresó “rechazo categórico” al injerencismo de Estados Unidos Panorama 20.02.2015)

The dragged-like-a-dog reference in The Independent's headline Ismael García comes from a tweet by National Assembly (Parliament) member Ismael García of the opposition parties Avanzada Progresista and Primero Justicia (PJ). The article does not report whether Ledezma was placed in a collar with a chain attached to it.

Bill Clinton also got into the act, tweeting:

Why is Bill Clinton stepping in on behalf of one of the main leaders of the far-right opposition (Leopoldo López) that was and is explicitly seeking the immediate, extra-constitutional removal of the government of Venezuela that had been elected in a tightly competitive election in 2013? Good question!

Rachel Boothroyd reports for Venezuela Analysis on the charges against Ledezma, presumably basing her description of the offical justification for the arrest. (Venezuelan Opposition Mayor, Alias “The Vampire,” Arrested for Role in Blue Coup Plot 02/20/2015) She also recounts how Ledezma had more recently identified himself with the more-or-less explicit coup plan promoted by Leopoldo López and María Machado:

The planned coup was uncovered last week by security forces, just hours before several US backed Air Force officials had planned to partake in a bombing spree of strategic targets in the capital. They had hoped this would lead to the assassination of the country’s president and bring about regime change in the South American country.

“Antonio Ledezma who, today, by order of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, was captured and is going to be prosecuted by the Venezuelan justice system, to make him answer to all of the crimes committed against the peace and security of the country and the Constitution ... We’ve had enough of conspiracies, we want to work in peace!” announced Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, amidst a chorus of cheers from onlookers.

Last week, Ledezma, who is current Mayor of the Metropolitan Capital District of Caracas, signed a statement calling for a “National Transition Agreement” alongside opposition politicians, Maria Corina Machado and currently detained leader of the Popular Will party, Leopoldo Lopez.

The document calls on Venezuelans to unite behind a plan to remove elected President Nicolas Maduro and sets out an action programme for the would be provisional government. This includes facilitating the return of “exiled” Venezuelans, prosecuting current members of government and reaching out to international financial lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund. [my emphasis]
He hasn't exactly been entirely faithful to constitutional scruples in the recent past:

It is not the first time that Ledezma has been implicated in a plan to violently overthrow the government. In 2002, he participated in an attempted coup which saw socialist president of the time, Hugo Chavez, ousted for a period of 47 hours. Last year, he was also named several times as a “principal ally” by currently detained terror plotter, Lorent Saleh. Saleh was one of the main underground activists fuelling the armed barricades known as guarimbas which last year claimed the lives of at least 43 Venezuelans. He had planned to go on a killing spree with the help of Colombian paramilitaries but was arrested before the plan could take place.

Popularly known as “the vampire”, Ledezma began his political career in 1973 as a member of the “Democratic Action” Party. In 1989, he infamously became Governor of the Federal District of Caracas, when he oversaw one of the most violent periods in the history of the Caracas Metropolitan Police.
Boothroyd also thinks reports of his being dragged out like a dog are not supported by the available facts:

Although international press has widely reported that the Mayor was manhandled when SEBIN officers entered his office, a video of the detention has emerged appearing to show a reticent but unharmed Ledezma being escorted from his office by several armed guards. Photos published of glass on the floor in Ledezma's office by news agency, Ultimas Noticias, appear to show that SEBIN forcibly entered the building.

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