Venezuelan intelligence officers Friday arrested Enrique Aristeguieta Gramcko, one of the harshest critics of President Nicolás Maduro and his regime.
Aristeguieta, who is in his 80s, recently published a video accusing Maduro of leading a “narco-tyranny” much more nefarious than the Marcos Perez Jimenez dictatorship in Venezuela that he helped topple in 1958.
“We never thought at that time that we would have to suffer a tyranny worse than all the previous ones,” said Aristeguieta, a member of the Junta Patriotica that coordinated the 1958 resistance, on the video.
“Perez Jimenez was undoubtedly a dictator who violated the Constitution to keep himself in power,” he added. “He persecuted and jailed his enemies, but he had no links to drug trafficking or international terrorism and did not bow to any foreign government.”
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Aristeguieta was arrested at his home at 3 a.m. Friday by agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, known as SEBIN. It’s not known where he was being held.
The arrest of Aristeguieta, who was president of the opposition Grand National Alliance, was swiftly condemned by Venezuelan opposition leaders and even the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.
“We demand the immediate release of Enrique Aristeguieta, information on where he is being held and respect for his rights. More evidence of the arbitrary actions of the @Nicolas Maduro dictatorship trying to silence dissident voices,” Almagro wrote on his Twitter account.
Some of the condemnations expressed concern for Aristeguieta’s physical well-being, noting that the regime has been turning increasingly violent as the number of its critics grows.
Aristeguieta himself warned about violence in his video, posted in late January to mark the anniversary of the end of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship.
“Maduro and his allies jail, torture and murder dissidents shamelessly and in the full light of day, including unarmed students and pregnant women,” he said, apparently referring to the Jan. 15 police raid that killed rebel policeman Oscar Pérez and six supporters. One of them was a pregnant woman.
The group reported that it was preparing to surrender in several cellphone messages and videos posted on social media. Evidence is mounting that they were all executed.
Aristeguieta’s video also accused the regime of shamelessly following orders from Havana and having close links to drug traffickers, Colombian guerrillas and Islamic fundamentalists.
Former Venezuelan army chief Carlos Julio Peñaloza, now exiled in Miami, said he feared for Aristeguieta’s life, “not only because of his age and health but because the regime is carrying out extrajudicial executions, as in the case of Oscar Pérez and his group.”
“The Maduro regime is desperate because it knows it’s cornered. But in its desperation, it is capable of committing any barbarity, including his assassination,” Peñaloza said in a statement.
He added that he held Maduro personally responsible for anything that happens to Aristeguieta, whom he called “the dean of the Venezuelan resistance.”
“Aristeguieta Gramcko is a hero of democracy who is in grave danger,” he said. “Under this narco-regime, anything can happen.”
Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM