The Human Bargaining Chips of the Maduro Regime

All kinds of irregularities surround the incarceration of more than 800 political prisoners in Venezuela, among them the first vice-president of the National Assembly. Are they still isolated, waiting for their fates to be decided over a talk in Norway?

Photo: BBC retrieved

When you study the arrest of deputy Roberto Marrero, a clear modus operandi of repression emerges.

According to the new Reuters report, “Vague, contradictory evidence against Roberto Marrero casts doubt on the case,” while revealing the sketchiest cover-up imaginable, the type that can only be undertaken when you’ve enjoyed impunity for the past 20 years:

Sebin agents broke into Marrero’s home at two in the morning, on March 21st, 2019, “finding” two rifles and a grenade they said he smuggled in from Colombia. Lawyer Joel García claims the evidence was fabricated, though Reuters couldn’t, of course, confirm it. The weapons and social media posts prosecutors labeled as “treasonous” were the excuse for Marrero’s detention, but contradictions “suggest the social media evidence was cobbled together only after the raid.” And what, exactly, is the treasonous nature of these posts?

According to prosecutors, “his calls for ‘humanitarian aid,’ backed by the United States and Colombia, amounted to treason because he wasn’t authorized” to make those calls.

Marrero now awaits trial in El Helicoide, but his detention was only the first in a wave of repression. The most dramatic arrest was that of National Assembly Vice-President Edgar Zambrano who, on the evening of May 8th, locked himself in his car and was then towed away to Sebin headquarters, charged with “treason.”

Evidently, parliamentary immunity only applies to chavista deputies and the recent Reuters report shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the repressive workings of the Bolivarian government vis-à-vis the opposition. Readers might know, for instance, about the case of National Assembly Deputy Gilber Caro and Ferrominera union leader Rubén González, both civilians now facing military tribunals, a fact that, according to Amnesty International, “undermines the rule of law in the country, violating the Venezuelan Constitution and international laws.”  In both cases, “evidence” and charges were created well before the alleged crimes. As Américo de Grazia points out, a warrant for the arrest of Rubén González was issued on August 14th, 2018, but he was supposedly caught in flagrante on November 28th. Gilber Caro was disappeared (we still don’t know where he is) on April 26th, and later charged with involvement in the uprising of April 30th.

The military judge who was set to rule in the case of Caro, Major Luz Mariela Santafé Acevedo, defected to Colombia because she “no longer wanted to continue making decisions against due process, effective judicial protection, the right to defense and, above all, the violation of human rights.” She referred directly to the case of Gilber Caro when she said that he was subjected to “the planting of false evidence.”

The arrests of opposition members might be seen as Maduro gathering his chips for the next round of talks in Oslo. If you count all political prisoners, it comes to over 800 people now, people who could prove useful for bargains with the opposition. While hostage-taking is condemned by international law (specifically the Geneva Convention, common Articles 3, 34 and 147, and the UN International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages) outlaws like Maduro have found it advantageous for getting his way.


And so far, he’s still on the other side of the bars.

Clifton Ross

Clifton Ross recently published his political memoir documenting his conversion from Chavismo to the opposition. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife and co-editor, Marcy Rein, and their two cats.