DESTINATION UNKNOWN:Leopoldo Lopez has become a symbol for human rights, and his wife said Maduro would be held responsible if anything happens to him
Venezuela’s most high-profile opposition figures were seized from their homes by security forces, according to people close to them, in what appeared to be a crackdown on officials challenging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was taken from his home at gunpoint, his wife said, just weeks after he had been transferred from military prison to house arrest after three years behind bars. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was also seized, opposition lawmaker Richard Blanco said.
Videos of the detentions were posted on Twitter.
“They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house,” Lilian Tintori, his wife, said on her Twitter account. “We don’t know where he is, or where they are taking him.”
Lopez has become a symbol for rights groups and foreign governments, who have said his detention — including stints in solitary confinement — was clear evidence that Maduro was willing to trample basic rights to safeguard his power.
As Venezuelans suffer shortages of basic commodities and street violence escalates, Maduro is seeking to rewrite the constitution after a referendum on Sunday that the opposition and many foreign governments refused to recognize. Opponents regard the push to overhaul the charter as a power grab by an increasingly autocratic leader.
“If something happens to him, Maduro will be held responsible,” Tintori said.
She released footage from a security camera that appeared to show armed security forces putting Lopez into a car marked with the seal of the intelligence police, known as Sebin.
Bloomberg could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the videos. Calls to the Venezuelan embassies in Madrid and London for comment were not answered.
Ledezma, who opposes Maduro, was also taken from his home and his whereabouts are similarly unknown, opposition lawmaker Richard Blanco on Twitter.
Blanco released a video taken from a mobile phone that appeared to show Ledezma still in pajamas being led away by armed forces.
“They’re taking Ledezma!” a woman in the video says. “Dictatorship!”
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday sanctioned Maduro — who has led Venezuela since the death of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013 — accusing his government of undermining democracy.
He becomes the fourth head of state sanctioned by the US, joining North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The nation’s US$3 billion bonds due 2022 plummeted, sending the yield soaring 86 basis points as of 9:43am in London to close to 40 percent, the highest level on a closing basis since February last year. Bets on a Venezuelan default are climbing and the implied probability of a missed payment over the next year has risen to 64 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg on credit-default swaps showed.
Maduro, described by US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin as a dictator, has presided over an increasingly autocratic regime that has imperiled the country’s six-decade democracy and left society in shambles.