Venezuela calls for investigation of Guaidó amid deepening tensions

Locked in a battle for control of Venezuela, the country’s top attorney on Tuesday asked the courts to investigate interim President Juan Guaidó and deny him permission to leave the nation. The move came as the opposition-led National Assembly began naming parallel ambassadors and Colombia tried to tamp down fears that U.S. troops might be on their way to its shared border with Venezuela.

In a series of fast-moving events, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab on Tuesday blamed Guaidó for ongoing violence and international sanctions against the Nicolás Maduro regime and said the acts “imply that serious crimes have been committed against the constitution.”

Along with barring Guaidó from leaving the country, he’s also asking the courts to freeze his bank accounts pending investigation.

The measures against Guaidó come as the 35-year-old politician is trying to force Maduro to step down and call for new elections. While Guaidó has broad domestic and international support, Saab’s actions underscore that Maduro, 56, still has the power of the courts and the military on his side.

Speaking to reporters on the steps of the National Assembly, Guaidó said he wasn’t downplaying the threat of arrest “but there’s nothing new under the sun.”

“Unfortunately, this is a regime that has no answers for the Venezuelan people,” he said. “The only answer is more repression and more persecution.”

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Human rights groups say there are more than 287 political prisoners in Venezuela and the Maduro administration routinely jails and sidelines its rivals.

Guaidó declared himself interim president on Jan. 23 amid growing anti-Maduro protests that have left dozens of civilians dead. Despite not having much real power, he’s been pushing forward an ambitious agenda. On Tuesday, the National Assembly began naming ambassadors to represent the Guaidó administration in the region.

Shortly after, the White House announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be meeting with Guaidó’s chargé in the United States, Carlos Alfredo Vecchio, in the Roosevelt Room.

Increasingly boxed in at home and abroad, Maduro has been asking for a negotiated solution to the crisis. On Tuesday, he called on the opposition to engage in what he called a “grand national dialogue,” saying it was “the only route to coexistence.”

But the opposition fears the government is just trying to stall for time and says the only way out is new elections. Guaidó has called for new national protests on Wednesday and Saturday to press the point. Since demonstrations began in earnest last week, at least 35 people have been killed during protests, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

Cryptic Note

On Monday, Washington rattled Caracas by freezing the assets of the state-run PDVSA oil company, the government’s economic lifeline.

Guaidó said that measure was necessary to keep Maduro officials from looting government coffers, and he said the assets that are being held in the U.S. will help a future administration jump-start a moribund economy.

Maduro accuses the United States of trying to steal Venezuela’s oil wealth, including the U.S.-based CITGO gas stations.

Also on Monday, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton raised alarms when he was spotted carrying a legal pad with a note that said “5,000 troops to Colombia.”

On Tuesday, Colombia Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo reiterated that he did not know “the reason or the implications” of Bolton’s note, but he said the U.S. had never discussed sending troops to Colombia.

Colombia and Venezuela have been at odds for years, and Maduro often accuses his counterparts in Bogotá of plotting coup or invasion plans. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that Major General Mark Stammer, the commander of Southern Command, was in Colombia but downplayed his presence saying “this trip has been planned for several months and is part of a reoccurring series of meetings with our regional partners.”

Even so, Maduro has been making the rounds of military units, warning them that the country is at risk. On Tuesday, talking to members of the air force, he said they needed to be alert for attacks from the “empire” — the United States. But he also assured them the “Bolivarian Revolution” — which began in 1999 with Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez — would prevail.

“Once more, we will emerge victorious,” he said. “We are on the right side of history.”