Venezuela Police Detain Opposition Lawmaker After Protest

Alex Vasquez and Nicolle Yapur

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan police detained an opposition lawmaker hours after Juan Guaido supporters in Caracas were met with tear gas during a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Masked FAES officers forcibly removed Renzo Prieto from a hotel in eastern Caracas in the late afternoon, according to Guaido’s press office. Two other lawmakers, Zandra Castillo and Angel Torres, were released after being briefly detained. The FAES also confiscated 10 mobile phones from other lawmakers.

Prieto, a former student leader, was released from prison in 2018 after four years behind bars in the notorious Helicoide prison for organizing demonstrations against Maduro.

Earlier in the day, the lawmakers had walked alongside thousands of opposition supporters, who chanted and held signs that said “no more torture, no more deaths.”

The group had planned to rally at the National Assembly in downtown Caracas, where a rival march organized by Maduro loyalists was also headed, that briefly raised the possibility of clashes with armed government supporters, known as colectivos.

Police in anti-riot gear stood on the sidelines of the opposition’s gathering.

“I like to see the streets full of police, military and colectivos, that means that the dictatorship is afraid of us,” said Gustavo Giraud, a 72-year-old university philosophy professor, who held a cardboard skeleton with the words “we are hungry.” He earns 2 million bolivars a month, or about $27.

“I’m not afraid anymore,” he said.

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Guaido enjoys the backing of Washington and its allies, who recognize him as the nation’s legitimate leader, but he has so far failed to make much headway back home. Last April, Guaido tried to lead an uprising, which collapsed after most of the armed forces declined to join. Despite this, the government has refrained from arresting Guaido, possibly fearing the international reaction.

“We’ve achieved our goal and made our plight visible,” Guaido told the crowd. Guaido, speaking later in a webcast, said the opposition plans another protest on March 12.

Hundreds of opposition supporters also rallied in other major Venezuelan cities such as Maracaibo, San Cristobal and Barquisimeto.

In downtown Caracas, Maduro supporters and government workers clad in red danced to a live salsa band, where a large inflatable bust of late President Hugo Chavez bobbed in the wind. They held signs that said “sanctions are a crime,” and “Guaido is a traitor.”

While Guaido recently returned from an international tour where he met with President Donald Trump in the White House and took the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, protests back home have been muted this year. His momentum has been slowed by fatigue among ordinary citizens struggling to survive day-to-day, and skepticism that he can oust Maduro.

The colectivos were accused of pointing a gun at Guaido and injuring a protesters in a rally two weeks ago held in the western city of Barquisimeto.

Venezuela has 328 political prisoners, according to local NGO Penal Forum. Several are close allies of Guaido, like his former chief of staff Roberto Marrero and lawmakers Gilber Caro and Juan Requesens.

(Updates with details on detention starting in the first paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net;Nicolle Yapur in Caracas Office at nyapur1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patricia Laya at playa2@bloomberg.net, Matthew Bristow, Robert Jameson

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