Caracas, Venezuela — Security forces arrested the No. 2 leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress Wednesday as President Nicolás Maduro’s government began going after foes tied to a failed attempt to stir up a military uprising last week. National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano was leaving his Democratic Action party’s headquarters when he was surprised by a commando unit from the feared SEBIN intelligence agency that surrounded his car.
A half hour later, the officers towed the vehicle away with the lawmaker still inside. At the same time, Maduro was speaking live on state TV inaugurating an agricultural project. Neighbors looking on shouted “assassins” as the heavily armed agents pulled away.
“We democrats we will keep fighting!” Zambrano tweeted as he was hauled off.
The arrest was the first following the opposition’s fizzled uprising that started early on April 30 outside a Caracas air base. It was led by Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly who is leading the U.S.-backed effort to end what he calls Maduro’s dictatorship.
Zambrano, 63, was one of the first opposition leaders to answer Guaido’s call for an insurrection, going to the bridge in Caracas where the opposition leader had appeared at dawn with a small cadre of soldiers ready to rebel against Maduro.
On the highway overpass, Zambrano embraced popular opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who broke house arrest to take part. Zambrano also thanked the handful of rebel National Guardsmen, who wore blue armbands as symbols of their allegiance to Guaidó’s movement.
A lawyer by training, Zambrano is seen as a conciliatory figure within the opposition who is close to Henry Ramos, the former head of congress who has been accused of taking part in an earlier alleged conspiracy to oust Maduro. He took up his role as Guaido’s deputy as part of a power-sharing arrangement among the biggest parties.
Government officials had announced that Zambrano and eight other opposition lawmakers faced investigation on charges of “betraying the homeland” and “instigating an insurrection,” for their roles in last week’s unrest.
Two hours before his arrest, Zambrano had told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he was not going to hide because “I have not committed any crime.”
Government supporters have been pushing Maduro to order arrests in the aftermath of the failed uprising, which is the closest the opposition has ever come to ousting the president. But analysts say there are limits to how far Maduro can crack down, and that any attempt to arrest Guaidó risks inviting a strong response from the U.S., which has warned of “grave consequences” should the opposition leader be harmed.
Photo above: Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido (R) speaks with Venezuelan National Assembly’s first vice-president Edgar Zambrano during a session in Caracas, March 6, 2019.