Venezuelan prosecutors on Monday said they had charged opposition politician Freddy Guevara with terrorism and treason, among other allegations, after the country’s intelligence service arrested him from his car on a Caracas highway.
Guevara is a close ally of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the South American country’s legitimate president by the United States and others. Guaido said unidentified armed men threatened him with arrest earlier on Monday as he left his apartment in an effort to assist Guevara.
In a statement, the chief prosecutor’s office said it had sought an arrest warrant for Guevara due to his alleged “ties with extremist groups and paramilitaries associated with the Colombian government.”
The incidents took place as the government and opposition prepare for negotiations planned for next month in Mexico with mediation by Norway aimed at resolving the South American country’s deep political crisis, people familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.
In an appearance on state television on Monday, Maduro confirmed the negotiation plans but said the opposition should renounce violent tactics ahead of the talks. Without naming Guevara or Guaido, he said he had proof some actors were plotting coups and that prosecutors acted on the basis of that proof.
“I agree with the Mexico and Norway table, but there must be conditions, there must be an express renunciation of violent practices,” Maduro said, adding that the United States and European Union should lift sanctions on Venezuela before the negotiations begin.
The U.S.-backed opposition labels President Nicolas Maduro a dictator, alleging he rigged his 2018 re-election and uses the justice system to stifle dissent.
“We strongly condemn the arrest of Venezuelan Congressman Freddy Guevara and threats against Interim President Juan Guaido in Venezuela,” Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote on Twitter.
She urged the international community to join in condemning the acts and called for the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.
Maduro, who retains the support of the military, denies that the election was rigged, has labeled Guaido a U.S. puppet and has accused him of conspiring to oust him in a coup.
A spokesperson for Guaido’s office said Guevara, who was pardoned less than a year ago on 2017 charges of instigating violence, was taken to the Sebin intelligence service’s Helicoide prison in Caracas. The prosecutor’s office did not specify where he was being held.
Reporters arrived outside Guaido’s residence in eastern Caracas minutes after his wife, Fabiana Rosales, tweeted that security forces had entered their apartment building in an attempt to arrest Guaido.
Neighbors had gathered in protest around two white, unmarked trucks in which sat men bearing bulletproof vests and assault rifles, some in balaclavas, according to a Reuters witness. Others wore hats that said DIE – the Spanish acronym for the Directorate of Intelligence and Strategy police unit.
“Dictatorship!” some of the neighbors yelled at the men. Others leaned out nearby windows banging on pots and pans.
Shortly afterwards, an unmarked gray Toyota truck filled with police raced out of the garage in the basement, leaving the residential complex. Minutes later, Guaido emerged from an SUV.
Guaido told the reporters gathered outside the building that the men had left, and said it was unclear which branch of the security forces they had belonged to.
“They intercepted us and pointed their weapons at us, in the basement,” Guaido told reporters.
Guaido’s office circulated two videos which they said showed the incident in Guaido’s basement. The videos show at least two men with bulletproof vests and balaclavas approaching a car, pointing assault rifles. Guaido is sat in the passenger seat. One of the men opens the driver’s door and forces the driver onto the ground, yelling “Get out!,” the videos show.