Forces loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may have just committed one of their most brazen acts — one that threatens to plunge the country into even greater chaos.
On Thursday, Venezuela’s intelligence forces detained the chief of staff for Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who claims to be the country’s legitimate president and who is backed by the United States. In an overnight raid, they seized Roberto Marrero from his home shortly after also nabbing dozens of journalists and two state utility workers.
This is potentially a massive escalation by Maduro and could signal a new phase in his bid to maintain power despite America’s efforts.
Since January, the Trump administration, joined by governments in Latin America and Europe, has called for Venezuela’s dictator to step down, partly because the country has suffered an immense economic and humanitarian collapse during his rule. The US and others now recognize Guaidó, the leader of the country’s opposition-controlled legislative body, as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
The United States condemns raids by Maduro’s security services and detention of Roberto Marrero, Chief of Staff to Interim President @jguaido. We call for his immediate release. We will hold accountable those involved.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 21, 2019
Guaidó also confirmed the raid on Twitter, calling for Marrero’s immediate release. And in a video posted by Sergio Vergara, an opposition official and Marrero’s neighbor, Vergara said his home also was raided. “They asked me if I knew where Roberto Marrero lived, which I didn’t respond to,” he said.
Maduro is clearly more emboldened now
Trump administration officials and allied lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have consistently warned that any efforts to arrest Guaidó would be met with a swift response. That may help explain why Maduro has so far left Guaidó alone.
But going after Guaidó’s No. 2 is still a serious escalation, and it shows just how defiant the dictator remains.
“I think the detention of Marrero shows that the Maduro government is becoming more willing to start targeting Guaidó and his closest allies, and that whatever Maduro previously feared from doing so, he may no longer fear as much,” Timothy Gill, a Venezuela expert at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, told me.
That would make sense: One of Maduro’s biggest concerns is security forces — mainly the military — turning on him and joining Guaidó’s side. That hasn’t happened yet. Instead, they may be responding to Maduro’s call last week to begin “active resistance” by taking provocative, physical actions against Guaidó’s team.
In other words, despite American sanctions and outright calls for him to step down, Maduro may be more emboldened than ever.
“He might believe the time has passed for a serious uprising and that Guaido’s attempt to overthrow him has generally failed,” Gill said.