President Nicolas Maduro launched a criminal sweep in retribution for Saturday's attack by explosive drones, seizing vocal opposition leader Juan Requesens. Parliamentary immunity was also stripped from other lawmakers.
Requesens, member of Venezuela's largest opposition party Justice First, and his sister Rafaela were taken by intelligence police from his apartment building Tuesday night, security camera footage showed. Simultaneously, in a live address from the presidential palace, Maduro showed a videotaped confession of an arrested man who alleged he received attack instructions from Requesens. Former National Assembly President Julio Borges was also behind the plot, according to the man.
Venezuela's all-ruling Constituent Assembly voted Wednesday to strip parliamentary immunity from lawmakers implicated in Maduro's assassination attempt.
Maduro said 11 "hired assassins" trained in Colombia were offered $50 million to kill him as part of Saturday's thwarted attack, when two explosive drones detonated during a military parade. Military officers were wounded but the president was left unharmed. The suspects were planning a July 5 attack that was postponed because of the delayed arrival of the two drones, according to Maduro. He added that the attackers kept track of his public appearances and were told they could eventually go to the U.S.
"I saw death in the face and I said: This is not your time yet, this is the time for life," Maduro said during the address, showcasing bloodied military uniforms, some pierced by shrapnel. "I'm sure these assassins will receive the harshest of punishments."
Requesens, 29, previously the head of one of Venezuela's largest student unions, rose to prominence in 2014 during a wave of anti-government protests. After being elected a congressman in 2015, he continued to advocate for street demonstrations against the socialist regime, and was a key organizer of last year's unrest that spanned over months and claimed dozens of lives. In a speech at the national assembly in July, he promised to do "everything we can to remove Nicolas Maduro from power."
His sister Rafaela presides over the student union of the Central University of Venezuela. After her brief detention Tuesday night, she accused the government of using the attacks to round up opponents who were drawing attention to the grave shortages of basic food and medicine.
"They are trying to cast the blame on those who have nothing with it," she told reporters in Caracas on Wednesday morning. "The regime is afraid of young people who continue to fight for Venezuela."
Borges, who headed the opposition-controlled congress in 2017, now resides in Bogota. During his tenure as president of the National Assembly, he traveled the globe urging world leaders to ratchet up pressure on the ruling socialists for their alleged human-rights abuses. Borges also warned investors that any accords not approved by Congress would be deemed illegal, and would not be honored by a new government.
Maduro and other top-ranking officials regularly blame Borges for the government's financial woes, accusing him of soliciting sanctions. They have warned he will face jail if he ever returns to Venezuela.
Former National Assembly President Julio Borges is shown in this Dec.13, 2017 file photo.
A Section on 08/09/2018
Print Headline: Venezuela opposition chief seized