Venezuela’s opposition vow to defy Maduro

(theguardian) -Opposition politicians battling to bring down Venezuela’s strongman leader, Nicolás Maduro, have vowed to continue their struggle after the detention of one of their movement’s key figures signalled the start of a major crackdown.

Edgar Zambrano, the vice-president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament, was seized by intelligence agents on Wednesday night, and at least nine other lawmakers members are also facing detention on charges relating to last week’s failed uprising.

Juan Andrés Mejía, one of the targeted deputies, told the Guardian the group would not be cowed by Maduro’s “absolutely illegal and unconstitutional” counterattack.

“This is not going to work … You are not going to solve Venezuela’s problems by persecuting and imprisoning people. There are just too many of us who want change,” said Mejía, a close Guaidó ally and member of his party, Voluntad Popular (Popular Will).

“A dictatorship is trying to advance and our responsibility is to try to stop that from happening,” added Mejía, 32.

Richard Blanco, another of the 10 targeted lawmakers, said: “They are doing this … because they are afraid. He [Maduro] knows he is on his way out.”

Blanco, 54, said he had sought shelter in the residence of the Argentinian ambassador in Caracas. “I decided to come here … because my life was in danger.”

A third lawmaker, Marianela Magallanes, has reportedly taken shelter in the residence of the Italian ambassador to avoid arrest.

The detention of Zambrano – who was among those who joined Guaidó’s fruitless attempt to spark a pre-dawn uprising against Maduro on 30 April – sparked a wave of domestic and international condemnation.

“Maduro’s arrest of … Zambrano breaches parliamentary immunity and is a clear violation of the constitution,” tweeted the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt. “Feels like the act of a desperate man on borrowed time.”

The US state department slammed Zambrano’s “illegal and inexcusable” detention and warned of “consequences” if he was not freed.

Guaidó accused Maduro’s regime of “kidnapping” Zambrano, 63, who was taken to El Helicoide, a notorious political prison in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

The spectacular building, conceived in the 1950s as a glamorous shopping centre symbolising the wealth and swagger of South America’s oil-rich answer to Saudi Arabia, now houses the headquarters of Venezuela’s spy agency, the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin).

That feared and shadowy organisation appears to have been poised to turn on Maduro last week, with Sebin’s director, Manuel Cristopher Figuera, defecting in order to back Guaidó.