The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly – a man some argue is the rightful president of the country – was briefly detained Sunday in a confusing series of events that the government suggested was part of a “media spectacle” designed to undermine the socialist administration.
Juan Guaidó was on his way to a political rally Sunday when his car was stopped on the highway by masked security forces of the SEBIN political police who bundled him into a nearby vehicle. But within hours he had been released and was addressing a crowd of supporters on the outskirts of Caracas.
Holding up his wrist, with red marks where handcuffs had been, Guaidó said the welts were “symbols of repression” but that he wouldn’t back down from government threats.
“This is a time for bravery, for resistance and for strength,” he said.
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Venezuela’s Minister of Communications, Jorge Rodríguez, blamed Guaidó’s detention on rogue security forces who were trying to embarrass the administration by stopping the high-profile opposition candidate. Speaking to state-run VTV Television, Rodríguez said the officers would be suspended for manufacturing the “show” that he suggested had been planned by the opposition.
In a Tweet, Guaidó said the incident was proof that there was a “breakdown in the chain of command” and suggested that the agents had released him against government orders because they didn’t want to betray “their principals or break the law.”
Sunday’s incident comes just three days after President Nicolás Maduro began a new six year term that many in the international community consider illegitimate. The United States, Perú, Brazil, Colombia and others have said that the opposition-controlled National Assembly is the only valid branch of government, and that Guaidó should be the head of a transitional administration.
On Sunday, the Lima Group, which includes Canada and 12 Latin American nations, “condemned” Guaidó’s detention and said its members would hold the Venezuelan government responsible for the safety of the nation’s congressmen and their families.
In addition, neighboring Colombia reiterated its position that the National Assembly is the only legitimate branch of government and called for a “restitution of the democratic order” so “all Venezuelans can live in democracy and freedom.”
Maduro didn’t address Guaidó’s detention directly but said those who believe Venezuela is under a “dictatorial regime are being absurd.”
The Foreign Ministry also issued a statement calling Maduro the country’s only legitimate leader and accusing Washington of being behind a destabilization campaign against the government.
Venezuela’s electoral authorities say Maduro won the May 20th presidential race with almost 68 percent of the vote amid an opposition boycott. But more than 40 nations, including the United States, have said that process was fatally flawed and plagued by fraud.
Sunday’s incident is likely to be the first among many clashes between Guaidó and Maduro, as the young congressman becomes emboldened and enjoys international backing. Inside Venezuela, some have been calling for him to be sworn in as president – a provocative step he’s refrained from taking.
After his release Sunday afternoon, Guaidó wrote on Twitter: “The regime wanted to detain me, but no one and nothing can stop us.”