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Political persecution spreads across Venezuela in the wake of protests

Arrest warrants issued for opposition leaders

National Assembly seeks to oust Congresswoman María Corina Machado

Maduro pointing to buses vandalized during the protests. PALACIO DE MIRAFLORES

This Thursday, on the first night of relative calm in Caracas after eight days of clashes, the major state-sponsored TV stations were promoting the Twitter hashtag #FueraCNNdeVenezuela, or #CNNOutofVenezuela, among government supporters. Just a few moments before, President Nicolás Maduro had asked Minister of Communication and Information (MinCI) Delcy Rodríguez to start taking the necessary measures to suspend CNN en Español broadcasts throughout the country. Maduro was speaking on a national radio program when he said action will be taken unless CNN, the giant media house from Atlanta, Georgia, "rectifies."

After consolidating control of Venezuelan radio airwaves, the Chavista government went after international networks - radio, TV, or internet outlets that challenge the official story or meddle by providing coverage of events Caracas would rather not show.

When last week's crisis erupted as student protests grew across various cities, the administration abruptly took the Colombian station, NTN 24, off the air. Now, the Bolivarian Revolution is confident of itself. Yet, it is uncomfortable with the programs broadcast on CNN en Español that focus attention on events in Venezuela. On Wednesday, the network's anchor, Colombian journalist Patricia Janiot, came to Caracas to report live. Minister Rodríguez referred to Janiot as "an expert in psychological manipulation and maneuvering of the truth."

On Tuesday, a CNN team was assaulted by an armed group in El Valle, in southern Caracas. They were stripped of their belongings.

The blockade of CNN is not Maduro's only counter-offensive against the student protests. The government issued arrest warrants for opposition leader Leopoldo López whom the administration blames for the chaos. In the early morning hours of Thursday, Judge Raleyns Tovar informed López of the charges against him. They include plotting to commit crimes and burning public property. The court hearing took place in Ramo Verde, a military prison in Los Teques. López remains in custody at the site.

Maduro is taking advantage of the situation to tighten its grip. Several raids have been carried out in Caracas in search of Antonio Rivero, another leader of López's party, Popular Will. Rivero is an ex-general and former member of the Hugo Chávez administration who left the government after denouncing what he saw as Cuban interference in the armed forces. The former officer was jailed for a month in 2013 for organizing the April 15 protests. Those demonstrations took place the day after Maduro won the presidential elections by one percent. His rival, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski refused to acknowledge the results, citing various irregularities in the voting process.

Rivero's short stint in prison ended when a court granted him a precautionary exemption for health reasons. Now, the exemption has been lifted and the government accuses him of coordinating protests that resulted in road blockades and riots. "You are the one who trained these groups," Maduro said to Rivero from a TV platform. "You must answer for it."

Authorities are also looking for Carlos Vecchio, another leader of Popular Will. Vecchio is the political coordinator of the party. The charges against him have not been disclosed.

President Maduro has also said he will call for the arrest of another party member, San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos. Táchira was the first hotspot for riots. Then, they spread across the country. The administration said the situation is especially difficult in the state capital, where demonstrators had the support and coordination of Ceballos. The dissident mayor was elected in December 2013.

This Thursday the Vice President of the National Assembly, Darío Vivas, congressman from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela began proceedings to strip his colleague, Congresswoman María Corina Machado of parliamentary immunity. Machado, a former candidate for president, is an opposition leader and the most popular member of congress. Along with López, she heads La Salida, a movement that advocates street demonstrations to demand the end of the administration.

It goes without saying that the Assembly, dominated as it is by the government, will approve the measure to oust Machado next week and and indict her on charges similar to those levied against López.

Nicolás Maduro has mentioned on two consecutive occasions his intention to arrest the unidentified individuals on Twitter who threatened to kill him and the daughter of National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. Cabello is considered second in command in Chavista hierarchy.

 

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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