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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has escalated his war on opponents by arresting the opposition leader’s main aide in striking fashion: Political police towed his car while he was still in it.
Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and main aide to Juan Guaido, said he was stopped by agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) after his car exited the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas.
When the 63-year-old refused to exit his vehicle for questioning, the agents used a tow truck to drag his car away while he remained inside, taking him to Sebin’s infamous El Helicoide prison.
“The dictatorship has kidnapped the Vice President of the Assembly at the hands of his political police,” Guaidó tweeted on Wednesday night.
Zambrano becomes the first major arrest following a failed attempt last week by Guaidó to spark a military revolt to bring down Maduro’s government. The opposition was not able to convince enough members of the armed forces to defect, and the effort — described by Maduro as a coup — fizzled out.
“Edgar Zambrano has been detained. He was one of the main [leaders] of the coup,” Diosdado Cabello, Maduro’s second-in-command, told his weekly television show, to loud applause from the studio audience.
A day before Zambrano was detained, he and six other lawmakers had their parliamentary immunity stripped by the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly. In total, 15 lawmakers have had their immunity removed — including Guaidó — and three have been arrested.
Guaidó declared himself interim president in January claiming Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. The 35-year-old won the backing of the U.S. and most other Western nations, with Washington warning Maduro that any attempt to detain the opposition leader will be met with severe consequences.
The U.S. State Department said Zambrano’s detention was “illegal and inexcusable” and warned of “consequences” if he was not freed immediately.
On his way back from a rally in Florida on Wednesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that he was discussing ”the terrible abuses by Maduro” with Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, saying: “America stands with the GREAT PEOPLE of Venezuela for however long it takes.”