The Story of Roberto Enríquez

The leader of COPEI has sough protection in the Chilean Embassy after being accused of conspiracy and facing a military tribunal. One more notch in the political persecution belt of the Venezuelan government.

The last few days have been pretty hectic for many in Venezuela. But for the National Chairman of political party COPEI, Roberto Enríquez, they’ve been more topsy-turvy: Over the week, he has passed from being allegedly detained and charged with treason to whereabouts being unknown for several days to taking refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas.

The story is convoluted, but at its center there are two things: first, a “foiled“ destabilization plan involving Enríquez, being pushed around on State media by none other than Diosdado Cabello. And second, the rising trend of Venezuelan civilians being put on trial in military courts, an issue which was recently covered in Caracas Chronicles in this March 20th post by Jeffrey House.

But let’s start from the beginning. On Monday, several local press outlets reported the arrest of Enríquez by Military Intelligence (DGCIM) for the charges of “treason, instigation to rebellion and instigation of altering public order”. The news came from Alfredo Romero, director of local NGO Venezuelan Penal Forum, who indicated that Enríquez would be presented in a military court.

For the same case, three other men were also detained: COPEI member Eduardo Vetencourt and two military officers. COPEI’s Secretary-General Robert Garcia Prada indicated that a legal team was being assembled to defend Enríquez while other opposition parties gave their support.

Then, after a few hours the story changed: Enríquez wasn’t in custody, even if the authorities were indeed looking for him. Garcia Prada said that there was no news about Enríquez’s whereabouts.

For more than two days Enríquez didn’t make any contact, according to COPEI’s Rogelio Díaz, who serves as a councilman in Libertador Municipality and Communications VP of the party.

Finally on April 5th, news broke about the presence of Enríquez in the Chilean embassy, later confirmed by their Foreign Ministry. COPEI publicly thanked President Michelle Bachelet. At the same time, Diosdado Cabello accused Enriquez of “coup-plotting” during his weekly TV show. COPEI quickly reacted on its Twitter account, calling these accusations from Cabello “absurd”.

Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz told Radio Cooperativa that for now Enríquez only asked for protection, but in the case that he asks for political asylum, the response will be affirmative.

“If he requests political asylum, we’ll give it to him, because Chile does not qualify innocence or guilt, nor even the political conditions, because the act of giving asylum is a humanitarian action…”

Rogelio Díaz and lawyer Alonso Medina Roa revealed more details about the situation in Union Radio’s morning show “A Tiempo”. After Enríquez made contact, he entered Chile’s embassy “…given the danger against him and the lack of constitutional and legal guarantees…”.

Medina Roa, who represents Eduardo Vetencourt and the two military officers detained (Captain Angelo Heredia and Coronel Ricardo Somascal), asked if the evidence was not available to the parts involved in the process, how did Diosdado Cabello have access to it in the first place and then show it publicly? He also said that all formal charges came from a single piece of evidence.

In Chile, the case has raised some attention: Deputies of the Christian Democrat Party (DC) showed a banner in the Chamber in support of giving Enríquez political asylum. Enríquez has been the Vice-President of the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA) since May of last year.

Two Chilean Senators and current presidential contenders offer support as well: DC’s Carolina Goic and Independent Manuel Ossandon. Seems like Venezuela is slowly turning into an issue for the upcoming presidential election, including the two main primaries to be held on July 2nd.

This series of incidents involving Roberto Enríquez is a new blow for the historical political party COPEI, which is facing very uncertain times after failing its formal “revalidation” drive last month.