Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: Juan Guaidó deputy arrested in Caracas

View of the vehicle carrying vice president of the Venezuelan National Assembly Edgar Zambrano, as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) carries out an operation to arrest him, next to the headquarters of the political party Accion Democratica, in Caracas, Venezuela, 08 May 2019. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Zambrano's car was towed by Sebin agents with him inside

The deputy of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has been detained by the country's intelligence services.

Edgar Zambrano, vice-president of the National Assembly, refused to leave his car when approached, and as a result he and his car were towed to prison.

It is the first arrest of a senior opposition figure since attempts to spark a military rebellion against President Nicolás Maduro last week.

Mr Guaidó is recognised as "interim president" by more than 50 nations.

What happened?

Democratic Action party leader Carlos Prosperi told reporters that he had been at a party meeting with Mr Zambrano in the capital Caracas moments before the latter was arrested by agents from Venezuela's Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin).

"The vehicle was surrounded," he said. "They [Sebin agents] wouldn't allow us to get to him. They brought a tow truck and his vehicle was towed away."

Venezuelan online television channel VPI posted footage of the moment Mr Zambrano was towed on Twitter.

Mr Prosperi said that he believes Mr Zambrano was taken to El Helicoide, a notorious prison in the centre of the city.

"We don't know anything about what physical condition he's in and we don't know what is happening at El Helicoide at the moment," he said.

What's the background?

The arrest comes a day after Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered that Mr Zambrano and six other National Assembly deputies be charged with treason for their alleged participation in the failed military uprising.

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The court asked the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a body convened by President Maduro and made up exclusively of his supporters, to lift the parliamentary immunity of the lawmakers, which the ANC promptly did.

Since then, three more opposition lawmakers have been charged and their immunity is expected to be lifted within days.

They are: Freddy Superlano of the Democratic Action party, Sergio Vergara and Juan Andrés Mejía, who both represent the Popular Will party.

What reaction has there been?

Mr Guaidó called Mr Zambrano's arrest - in particular the towing of his car - "absurd" in a tweet he posted shortly after the incident.

There was also swift reaction from the officials from the US, a country which has been one of the strongest supporters of Mr Guaidó.

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Media captionVenezuela crisis: The four countries interested in the presidential battle

On the Twitter account of its "virtual" embassy in Caracas - the embassy closed in March amid growing tensions - the US called the detention "illegal and inexcusable" and warned that if he was not released immediately, there would be consequences. However, the tweet did not spell out what those consequences would be.

The EU said Mr Zambrano's arrest was "another fragrant violation" of Venezuela's constitution and described it as "a politically motivated action aimed at silencing the National Assembly".

Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru have also called for Mr Zambrano's release.

Meanwhile, the head of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, boasted about the arrest on his TV show.

To the applause and loud cheers of government supporters, he mocked the lawmaker, saying that he would have to pay for the towing of his vehicle.

Earlier Mr Cabello called Mr Zambrano "one of the principal conspirators of the coup" and said that he and his "co-conspirators" would have to "pay before the courts for the failed coup that they have attempted".

How did it come to this?

Mr Guaidó declared himself Venezuela's acting leader in January. As the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, he invoked the constitution to assume as the position of interim president, arguing that Mr Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate.

Since then, tension between those who support Mr Guaidó and those who back Mr Maduro has increased. The military is seen as holding the key to the balance of power.

On 30 April, in a video recorded near an air force base in Caracas, Mr Guaidó called on the military to help him oust President Maduro.

Mr Zambrano was one of the lawmakers seen in later footage talking to Mr Guaidó on a flyover near the air force base. Mr Cabello said that was "enough to prove his involvement".

While a small group of uniformed men joined Mr Guaidó, the top brass of the military quickly declared its loyalty to President Maduro and the status quo was maintained.

Mr Guaidó has since told the BBC he would consider asking the US to stage a military intervention.

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Media captionSelf-declared interim president Juan Guaidó failed in a third attempt to oust Nicolás Maduro. What now?

Venezuela timeline: Oil prices and crises

Oil prices collapse from $35 to $10 a barrel

Riots take over the country

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President Carlos Andrés Pérez implements a number of austerity measures. The prices of petrol, food and public transport rise sharply, sparking riots that become known as Caracazo. Security forces crack down on demonstrators, killing between 300 and 3,000.

Two failed coup attempts

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Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, a young army lieutenant colonel, leads an attempt to overthrow the president. The revolt is unsuccessful, Chávez gives himself up and is sent to a military jail. Months later, his allies try to seize power for a second time, but fail again. The revolts result in some 120 deaths.

Pérez impeached and Chávez pardoned

Embroiled in corruption accusations, President Pérez was impeached in 1993 and sentenced to jail. Not long after, Chávez and other rebels are pardoned. In 1997, Chávez and his supporters launch the Movement of the Fifth Republic.

Oil prices fall from around $19 to $12 a barrel due to the Asian financial crisis

Chávez  elected

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With support not just from the poorest but also from a middle class which has seen its living standards sink, Chávez is elected promising "revolutionary" social policies.

Presidential terms extended

A new constitution is approved in a referendum, extending the presidential term from five to six years and allowing leaders to run for immediate re-election. It comes with one condition: a presidential election should be held in 2000, which Chávez wins.

Caracas protests turn violent

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The state-owned oil company, PDVSA, struggles after top technocrats were replaced with inexperienced Chávez loyalists, and business and union leaders call a general strike. Protests in Caracas turn violent with at least a dozen dead. Top military officers detain Chávez and businessman Pedro Carmona declares himself president. Rescued by lower ranks of the military, Chávez returns to the presidency just 48 hours after being ousted.

Chávez clings to power amid unrest

Thousands of oil workers who had joined the strike are fired. Chávez pegs the bolívar to the dollar and introduces foreign currency and price controls. Opponents organise a number of protests and petitions for a referendum on the president's rule but Chávez remains in power.

Oil prices rise from $30 to above $60 a barrel

Bolivarian revolution "success"

Chávez starts pumping the money from oil revenues to fund social welfare and introduces controversial policies including nationalising key sectors of the economy. His programmes reduce poverty and help get him re-elected. He says his "Bolivarian revolution" has triumphed.

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After reaching a record high above $140 in 2008, oil prices plunge to around $32

High inflation bites

While poverty continues to fall as a result of the government’s programmes, Venezuelans suffer from high inflation. Electricity blackouts become frequent and crime rises across the country.

March towards democratic socialism

Chávez is re-elected saying he has fully recovered from an unspecified cancer he announced in 2011. He says Venezuela will continue its "march towards democratic socialism". But critics say the cult around his image is taking the country towards dictatorship.

Chávez dies

After months without being seen in public, Chávez dies at 58 in Caracas. Thousands take to the streets to pay tribute while his hand-picked successor, Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, vows to keep socialist legacy.

Maduro is elected promising a "revolution within the revolution"

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Oil prices plunge below $50 a barrel

Millions flee

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The country is unable to pay for imports of goods and shortages of food and medicine become chronic. Maduro blames the crisis on a US-led "economic war" while the opposition accuses the government of economic mismanagement. Security forces crack down on protesters, resulting in more than 100 deaths. As the crisis grows, millions of Venezuelans leave the country.

Maduro re-elected amid opposition boycott

Political stand-off deepens crisis

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Declaring Maduro's re-election was illegitimate, head of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó declares himself interim leader and is recognised by more than 50 countries, including the US and most in Latin America. Backed by key allies Russia and China and the top of the Venezuelan army, Maduro resists the pressure and stays in power.

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