The continued unrest in Venezuela, which has been marked by violent protests over the course of the past year, took a dramatic turn this week with the surprise arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma on Thursday.
Following the raid, President Nicolas Maduro addressed the country to explain that the prominent opposition leader had been detained "so that he answers for all of the crimes committed against the peace, security and constitution of our country."
The embattled president faces record-low popularity as the tumble in oil prices has wrought product shortages, and hours-long lines for basic goods have become something of legend in Venezuela. (Earlier this month, several news outlets reported on the saga of the $755 pack of condoms.)
In Maduro's televised address, he reiterated a claim he had made previously that the United States was behind the efforts to unseat him. "Their coup d'etat failed," he said to applause. "Every fascist gets found out."
One of the country's fiercest critics of Maduro as well as former President Hugo Chavez, Ledezma joins a number of prominent activists who have been jailed amid the political chaos, including leading opposition figure Leopoldo López. Earlier this week, López and Ledezma formally asked for a transitional government by signing an open letter, according to NPR. The arrests have inspired protests within the country and drawn strong rebukes from human rights groups, foreign governments, and American officials, current and former:
Leopoldo López and the political prisoners in Venezuela should be released without delay.— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) February 20, 2015
Venezuela has had its brushes with coups and conspiracies. Hugo Chavez was briefly removed from power in an American-endorsed coup in 2002; Maduro also previously accused the United States of causing Chavez's fatal cancer by poisoning him. On Thursday evening, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the latest accusations "baseless and false."
"The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government," she said. "We remain Venezuela’s largest trading partner."
As the AP reported, "Ledezma is expected to be brought before a judge Friday."
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