As thousands of Venezuelans crammed the streets of the capital on Friday to follow the funeral procession of Robert Serra, the young lawmaker who was murdered Wednesday, President Nicolás Maduro and others ratcheted up tension with allegations that his killing was politically motivated.
In a speech at Serra’s memorial service, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said the murder was committed by the “fascism that’s against the Bolivarian Revolution and against the happiness of the people.” He said that anybody who doubted that it was politically motivated “needs to change their mind.”
His comments came hours after Maduro also weighed in on the case, saying he had “no doubt that it was paramilitaries from Colombia who provided advice on the methods of this killing.”
While Maduro didn’t provide any evidence, he said that investigations were progressing and promised to find the “intellectual authors” of the crime.
In the past, the government has blamed right-wing saboteurs for murders and property damage only to let the cases languish.
Serra, a 27-year-old member of the National Assembly and a rising star in the ruling PSUV party, and his wife, María Herrera, were stabbed to death in their home late Wednesday. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but authorities claim this assassination was not the result of common crime or a botched robbery.
Maduro often accuses the “fascist opposition” of working in tandem with factions in Colombia to try to destabilize his socialist administration.
Last month, Colombia deported two Venezuelan activists who were allegedly plotting bomb attacks and protests in their home country. Since then, Venezuela’s state-run media has been showing videos of one of the detainees, Lorent Saleh, talking about purchasing weapons and explosives and “neutralizing” government activists.
Maduro cited that case as he talked about the Colombian connection in Serra’s murder. The theory was also fueled by former Colombian President and the Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNSAUR) Ernesto Samper. He told El Tiempo newspaper that Serra had been investigating Saleh’s case and he speculated that that’s why the lawmaker was targeted.
“This is very serious because it confirms that those people [paramilitaries] might be entering Venezuela,” he told the newspaper.
Colombia’s paramilitary groups were prominent in the 1990s but began demobilizing under the government’s 2003 “Justice and Peace” program. However, many paramilitary combatants joined the ranks of criminal syndicates. While the government calls these groups “Bacrim,” short for criminal gangs, many refer to them as paramilitaries, since they maintain the same tactics, fighters, and territorial control as the defunct groups.
Former Venezuelan Ambassador Milos Alacaly called Samper’s speculation unfortunate. In a statement, he said the former president “should either be more cautious or provide hard evidence.”
“To assign blame for this crime to one particular sector isn’t transparent — everyone should be investigated including inside the government of Nicolás Maduro,” he added.
The speculation comes after the Minister of Interior Miguel Rodríguez had asked the opposition not to politicize the case or turn it into a “media circus.” A coalition of anti-government parties canceled a march scheduled for Saturday in deference to the lawmaker.
Robert Serra rose to prominence as a youth activist of the PSUV, and former President Hugo Chávez often cited him as one of the future leaders of the socialist revolution. He became the country’s youngest member of the National Assembly when he won a seat in 2010 representing Caracas.