Venezuelan opposition students protest against the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas on Wednesday.Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuelan intelligence agents on Wednesday arrested the opposition mayor of the western city of San Cristobal, which has been a crucible of anti-government resistance and spawned the current wave of protests.
Then, hours later, the Supreme Court announced that the opposition mayor of San Diego, Enzo Scarano, would be removed from his post and serve 10 months and 15 days in prison for disobeying a March 12 court order to keep protesters from barricading streets in his city.
The mayors joined opposition leader Leopoldo López, who is being held on charges of arson and conspiracy, as leading government opponents jailed by President Nicolás Maduro's administration since unrest began last month.
The arrest of San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos was made in a Caracas hotel by agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (known by its Spanish initials, SEBIN), according to his aide, Ronni Pavolini.
Ceballos, who was in Caracas for a meeting of opposition mayors, had been outspoken in his criticism of what he called repression by security forces in his city.
Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres confirmed the arrest later on state television. "This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only did not meet his obligations as required by law and the constitution, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence in San Cristobal."
The anti-government protests began in early February with students in San Cristobal, an opposition stronghold along the border with Colombia. Since then, Venezuela has seen intense clashes between authorities and protesters frustrated by soaring inflation, rampant violent crime and shortages of basic items such as cooking oil and toilet paper.
Late Wednesday, the federal prosecutor's office said that, according to preliminary information, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo, 23, was killed while breaking up protests near a local university in San Cristobal. That would be the fifth National Guardsman killed during the protests.
Meanwhile, about 15 miles from San Cristobal, National Guardsmen firing plastic shotgun pellets and tear gas wounded at least 16 people in the town of Rubio as they cleared barricades that had been up for weeks, local officials said.
Rubio residents reported an intense effort by the National Guard to clear protesters' barricades that had sealed off neighborhoods.
In Caracas, officials said a municipal worker was shot and killed while removing a street barricade in a middle-class neighborhood. His death raised to 28 the official toll from more than a month's worth of protests.
The federal prosecutor's office said Francisco Alcides Madrid Rosendo, 32, was shot multiple times around 10 p.m. Tuesday while he and others were taking down a barricade in the Montalban neighborhood in Caracas' western section.
Pro-government Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodríguez through his Twitter account blamed unnamed "terrorists" for the killing, but provided no other details.
Besides authorities arresting Ceballos and López, Venezuela's National Assembly on Tuesday voted to start a process to strip opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado of her immunity so they could eventually bring charges against her for allegedly trying to destabilize the government.
Machado was expected to speak Friday at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington about the situation in Venezuela. Because the Venezuelan government controls the country's seat, Panama has offered Machado its seat to make her presentation to the regional body.
The organization earlier this month approved a declaration supporting Maduro's efforts to start a dialogue with the political opposition. Panama, the United States and Canada voted against it.
The Associated Press