Venezuela’s opposition leaders have reportedly been taken from their homes.
According to tweets from family members, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were rounded up in the middle of the night. This comes right after a controversial vote that resulted in a new legislative body that gives the President power to re-write the constitution.
President Nicolás Maduro called for an election on July 30th to institute a controversial new constituent assembly. Despite violent protests that preceded the election, citizens were called to elect members for this assembly. From a pool of 6,000 candidates, 545 delegates will be selected. They will have the power to draft a new constitution.
This was the second time this election was held in Venezuela. The first time was initiated by the then-newly elected President Hugo Chavez in 1999.
According to the government, more than eight million people cast votes. The opposition, which had called for large-scale protests, has contested this claim. They note that the number of people who voted was closer to 2-3 million.
There has been a steep deterioration in Venezuelan economy since 2013. The drop in the oil prices has added to the problems faced by the government. Over a 100 people have been killed in the multitude of protests that have taken place in 2017 and thousands have been injured. Many more have fled to Colombia to escape the violence and the shortage in food supplies.
Critics have alleged that Maduro is trying to overthrow the country’s democratic system. Countries like Colombia, USA, and Mexico have refused to recognize the legitimacy of this vote.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez took to Twitter to write, "They just took Leopoldo from the house. We do not know where he is or where he is being taken. Maduro is responsible if something happens to him.”
It has not been confirmed as to who has taken him. Tintori posted a video as well that shows him being driven away in a car marked SEBIN, which is the abbreviation for the intelligence service in Venezuela. Prior to being taken away, he was under house arrest. Two weeks ago, he posted a video urging supporters to keep up with the protests.
Ledezma is the former mayor of Caracas and a vocal critic. In a video statement also posted on Twitter, his daughter Oriette Ledezma said, “He was in pajamas. We don't know where he was taken. A group of men came with their faces concealed and in camouflage and they took him. They have kidnapped him once again. We hold the regime responsible for his life and physical integrity.”
The government is yet to respond.
Our assessment is that democracy is at threat in Venezuela. One of the main cornerstones of any democracy is the right to dissent. If the opposition leaders were taken by the government to suppress dissent, then critics of Maduro will have been proven right.