Venezuela: Guaido's bodyguards arrested as Barbados talks resume

Pro government supporter holds a sign which reads "Maduro is the people, Peace equals sovereignty".

Three men linked to self-declared “Interim President” Juan Guaido were arrested on July 12, while allegedly selling weapons stolen during the failed April 30 putsch.

According to Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, Guaido’s personal bodyguards Erick Sanchez and Jason Parisi, as well as Sanchez’s cousin Eduardo Garcia, were detained while reportedly trying to sell five AK-103 rifles and ten ammunition packs for US$35,000.

The rifles’ serial numbers allegedly matched those stolen from the Bolivarian National Guard post in Caracas’ Federal Legislative Palace, where the National Assembly sits.

The government also claims to have accumulated “overwhelming” video and audio evidence against them since April.

“How many more articles of the Constitution do[es Guaido’s team] look to violate? Why are they always linked to violent deeds with arms? We need to play clean, don’t try to cover these operations up,” Rodriguez told a press conference on July 13.

Venezuela's attorney general confirmed the three arrests and charges on July 17, claiming that one of the men had already confessed to the arms theft.

The arrests were announced as the government and opposition engaged in Norway-mediated dialogue in Barbados. President Nicolas Maduro’s and Guaido’s delegations returned to the island on July 15 for a new round of talks.

“These criminals are sitting at the dialogue table on one hand and continue violent acts on the other,” Rodriguez said.

Guaido led a failed military uprising on April 30. Hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was released from house arrest and joined Guaido and a handful of soldiers in the Altamira district of east Caracas. The putsch failed after it became apparent that the rest of the armed forces remained loyal to the Maduro government and a march led by Guaido was stopped from reaching the centre of Caracas.

The opposition leader was quick to condemn the arrest of his bodyguards at rallies in the western state of Trujillo, claiming that it was a “set up” and that the weapons were “planted” on the men “like with [Guaido chief of staff] Roberto Marrero”.

Marrero was arrested in March and is awaiting trial on charges of organising a terrorist cell and arms trafficking. Guaido and his Colombian-based team are also under investigation for embezzling international humanitarian “aid” funds. Guaido’s US representative Carlos Vecchio is likewise being investigated for fraud in relation to CITGO, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company.

Washington and Bogota both rejected the recent arrests of those in Guaido’s inner circle. Both US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Colombia’s Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo described the move as “arbitrary”.

Chavistas took to the streets on July 13 to deliver a message of peace, and to reject the United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s recent human rights report.

On Twitter, Maduro congratulated his supporters, saying: “The Venezuelan people mobilise to manifest their firm rejection of the lies and manipulation. For peace and truth!”

Caracas has claimed the UN report is “biased”, having ignored government projects to alleviate social problems and downplayed the impact on human rights of US-led sanctions.

The Venezuelan government also claimed that Bachelet did not take into account a series of testimonies from families of victims of human rights abuses committed during the violent street protests known as “guarimbas”. These included beheadings, fire bombings and burning people alive, such as Orlando Figuera in 2017.

Venezuela’s attorney general's office announced on July 10 that a man accused of involvement in Figuera’s death, Enzo Oliveros, had been arrested in Spain by Interpol on Caracas’ request. The Venezuelan government has issued an immediate request for his extradition.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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