President Nicolas Maduro launched a criminal sweep in retribution for Saturday’s attack by explosive drones, seizing vocal opposition leader Juan Requesens and likely stripping parliamentary immunity from other lawmakers.
Requesens, member of Venezuela’s largest opposition party Justice First, and his sister Rafaela were nabbed by intelligence police from his apartment building on Tuesday night, security camera footage showed. Simultaneously, in a live address from the presidential palace, Maduro showed a videotaped confession of an arrested man who alleged he received attack instructions from Requesens. Former National Assembly President Julio Borges was also behind the plot, according to the man.
Venezuela’s all-ruling Constituent Assembly will vote Wednesday on stripping parliamentary immunity from lawmakers implicated in Maduro’s assassination attempt, its president Diosdado Cabello said in a tweet Wednesday morning. “Justice is coming and in full force,” he wrote.
Maduro said 11 “hired assassins” trained in Colombia were offered $50 million to kill him as part of Saturday’s thwarted attack, when two explosive drones detonated during a military parade. Military officers were wounded but the president was left unharmed. The suspects were planning a July 5 attack that was postponed due to the delayed arrival of the two drones, according to Maduro. He added that the attackers kept track of his public appearances and were told they could eventually go to the U.S.
“I saw death in the face and I said: This is not your time yet, this is the time for life,” Maduro said during the address, showcasing bloodied military uniforms, some pierced by shrapnel. “I’m sure these assassins will receive the harshest of punishments.”
Requesens, 29, previously the head of one of Venezuela’s largest student unions, rose to prominence in 2014 during a wave of anti-government protests. After being elected a congressman in 2015, he continued to advocate for street demonstrations against the socialist regime, and was a key organizer of last year’s unrest that spanned over months and claimed dozens of lives. In a speech at the national assembly in July, he promised to do “everything we can to remove Nicolas Maduro from power.”
His sister Rafaela presides the student union of the Central University of Venezuela. After her brief detention Tuesday night, she accused the government of using the attacks to round up opponents who were drawing attention to the grave shortages of basic foods and medicines.
“They are trying to cast the blame on those who have nothing with it,” she told reporters in Caracas Wednesday morning. “The regime is afraid of young people who continue to fight for Venezuela.”
Borges, who headed the opposition-controlled congress in 2017, now resides in Bogota. During his tenure as president of the National Assembly, he traveled the globe urging world leaders to ratchet up pressure on the ruling socialists for their alleged human rights abuses. Borges also warned investors that any accords not approved by Congress would be deemed illegal, and would not be honored by a new government.
Maduro and other top-ranking officials regularly blame Borges for the government’s financial woes, accusing him of soliciting sanctions. They have warned he will face jail if he ever returns to Venezuela.
(c) 2018, Bloomberg · Patricia Laya, Andrew Rosati