On May 8th, 2019, individuals from the SEBIN (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional) intelligence agency in Venezuela surrounded the car of Edgar Zambrano at the Democratic Action party headquarters and towed the vehicle to the El Helicoide prison. Zambrano, an aide of opposition leader Juan Guaidó and Vice President of the National Assembly, was detained at the prison in response to his involvement in a failed uprising by the opposition party on April 30th, 2019. Guaidó incited the attempted uprising and called for military rebellion against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Before Zambrano’s imprisonment, Maduro had claimed he would take action against lawmakers involved in Guaidó’s alleged coup which led to many smaller protests against the government. After being accused of treason and conspiracy by the Maduro government, Zambrano and six other legislators were stripped of parliamentary immunity by a Constituent Assembly that sides with Maduro so that they could be punished accordingly.
According to The Wall Street Journal, to maintain a legacy of leadership initiated by his predecessor Hugo Chávez, Maduro stated, “It’s important that the Chavista people feel we are in control.” However, Guaidó views the detainment not as a reaffirmation of power but as a motivation for action against the current government. An article from The Wall Street Journal includes the following quote: “We are going to show in the streets that every person who is kidnapped, persecuted, and killed becomes a new reason to remove [Mr. Maduro] from power as soon as possible.” The U.S. and Latin American governments also condemned the detainment, maintaining support for Guaidó’s leadership. An article from Al Jazeera includes the following quote from Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States: “We demand the SEBIN stop the intimidation, respect the legislators’ parliamentary immunities, and immediately release Edgar Zambrano.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Breier, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs for the Trump administration, tweeted the following message: “If [Zambrano] is not immediately released, there will be consequences.” In Caracas, Al Jazeera reporter Teresa Bo emphasized the threat that Guaidó’s opposition party poses to the current government. She states, “What we have seen so far is a government that has been extremely careful in these past three months when dealing with the opposition, especially with Guaidó because the U.S. has said that it will take it very seriously any attempts to damage his physical integrity.”
Though the overthrowing of an oppressive or illegitimate government is typically in the best interest of citizens, a military uprising like the one attempted by Guaidó and his opposition party is likely to lead to violence that affects citizens negatively. This is especially true if, during such an uprising, Maduro instructs his military forces to counteract the attempted coup. If the demonstrations spurred by the failed uprising on April 30th, 2019 were peaceful in nature, the incitement of similar movements has the potential to express unrest with the current political situation while maintaining a non-violent outlook. However, in their interest of making a more urgent change, the opposition party’s resort to a military-driven uprising may lead to civilian injuries or deaths.
Though Maduro is the current President of Venezuela, Guaidó, backed by the support and recognition of over fifty countries including the U.S. declared himself the interim President in January after claiming that Maduro was illegitimately re-elected in 2018. In attempting to quell the opposition, Maduro has consistently utilized jailing and exiling as methods of punishment for those who go against him. Though several of Guaidó’s aides have been imprisoned like Zambrano, individuals like Leopoldo Lopez and Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera continue to work with Guaidó. For Figuera and others in similar situations, cooperation with Guaidó, and thus a severance of allegiance with Maduro, can be exchanged for the U.S.’s lifting of sanctions for human rights violations. Though many individuals in the Maduro government have attempted to discuss Maduro’s stepping down, typically, the cooperation either fails to pan out or Maduro’s intelligence agents find out about the meetings.
The action taken by Maduro’s government in the wake of Zambrano’s detainment will have major implications for the future of the political situation in Venezuela. As Teresa Bo maintained in her report for Al Jazeera, outside governments like the U.S. are willing to take action to reinforce Guaidó’s legitimate power in the country, especially if it is threatened by Maduro’s government. As Zambrano’s arrest poses a threat to Guaidó’s opposition, the decision of the Maduro government to release him or to continue with similar detainments is critical. It is also yet to be determined whether efforts to take down the Maduro government with the assistance of his government officials will be successful. If no progress is made in the near future and Maduro continues to commit similar actions, it is possible that outside governments like the U.S. will intervene to expedite Maduro’s removal.
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