Roberto Marrero, the chief of staff to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, was detained early at his home Thursday by masked security forces who have since been identified as intelligence agents.
Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency after declaring the re-election of Nicolas Maduro as a fraud. Maduro was sworn in on January 10, and Guaidó was declared the interim president by the National Assembly on January 23.
Since then, more than 50 governments, including the United States, have said they recognize Guaidó as the leader of the country. Maduro has accused the U.S. of helping to illustrate a coup, which Guaidó has denied as violence rages inside of Venezuela.
The pre-dawn raid and detainment of Marrero shows Maduro is ready to escalate the battle for the presidency and could signal a new phase in the struggle is set to begin.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Marrero Sent a Voice Message as the Raid Began
“In this moment, the SEBIN are in my house,” he said in the message. “They sadly came for me. Keep fighting. Don’t stop. Please take care of the president. And let it be what God wants. God bless you. The Venezuelan people should not stop because of this. We have to understand that the one who gets tired loses.”
The raid by SEBIN agents took place around 2 a.m. local time, according to Guaidó, at Marrero’s home in Caracas’ upscale Las Mercedes neighborhood.
Photos of the raid circulated social media.
Marrero was reportedly taken to El Helicoide, a notorious political prison overlooking Caracas.
The neighboring home of opposition lawmaker Sergio Vergara was also searched.
Vergara said some 40 armed SEBIN agents forced their way into their homes and spent three hours inside. The SEBIN left with Marrero and Vergara’s driver.
Guaidó said that Marrero had told Vergara that agents had planted two rifles and a grenade in his house.
In photos, the entrance door appears broken, dresser drawers are open and their contents — sheets, child’s toys, boxes and folders — are strewn over the floor. It is unclear if anyone else was in the house.
2. Marrero Worked for Another Infamous Venezuelan Opposition Leader
Marrero had previously worked as a lawyer for Leopoldo López, the former mayor of Caracas.
Lopez, who has been under house arrest since July 2017, is a well-connected opposition leader thought to be the architect of Guaidó’s rise. He was arrested in 2014 after leading protests against Maduro.
“As they cannot take the interim president prisoner, so they seek out people closest to him, threaten relatives, carry out kidnappings,” Guaidó told a news conference.
3. The Arrest Was Immediately Denounced Globally
U.S. officials were quick to speak out against the arrest.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the arrest “will not go unanswered.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who met with Guaidó in Colombia in February, demanded Maduro’s government release him.
Leaders from around the world also denounced the arrest.
The United Nations Human Rights office urged Maduro’s “government to strictly respect the process and immediately reveal his whereabouts.”
4. Marerro’s Arrest Could Have Bad Implications for Guaidó
“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 Vox.
Since January, Venezuelan authorities have arrested more than 1,000 people in connection with anti-government demonstrations, according to human right’s groups.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump warned the country “can go a lot tougher” on Venezuela after meeting with Brazil’s president who pledged to work with the U.S. to oust the Venezuelan “dictator.”
“We really haven’t done the really tough sanctions yet,” Trump said. “We can do the tough sanctions. And all options are open, so we may be doing that. But we haven’t done the toughest of sanctions, as you know. We’ve done, I would say, right down the middle. But we can go a lot tougher if we need to do that.”
The U.S. Treasury Department also announced new sanctions on Venezuela earlier this week.
Then on Wednesday, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, continued her robust criticism of Maduro’s government, accusing it of a violent crackdown on dissent.
Bachelet, addressing the Human Rights Council, cited allegations that the National Police’s Special Actions Force (FAES) had executed 37 people in January in Caracas in illegal house raids in poor areas supporting the opposition.
She also cautioned that moves by the U.S. government could hurt Venezuelan citizens and exacerbate the crisis.
“I am concerned that the recent sanctions on financial transfers related to the sale of Venezuelan oil within the United States may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing,” she told the Human Rights Council.
In January, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, hoping to finally drive Maduro from office.
But Maduro has been able to maintain power by keeping control of the military, and questions have swirled about the possibility of military action in Venezuela.
5. Venezuela Is In The Middle of a Humanitarian Crisis, and Opposition Leaders Remain Committed to Oust Maduro
Guaidó rose to power in the 2010 Venezuelan parliamentary election when Guaidó was elected as an alternate national deputy. He was elected to a full seat in the National Assembly in the 2015 elections with 26% of the vote.
Guaidó was elected President of the National Assembly of Venezuela in December 2018, and was sworn in on January 5.
Venezuela is reeling from annual inflation topping 2 million percent.
The number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide is roughly 3.4 million, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the International Organization for Migration, announced in February.
On average, during 2018, an estimated 5,000 people left Venezuela every day.
Those who remain in the country suffer from malnutrition, scarce access to medicine and preventable disease.
Earlier this month, a crippling power outage struck Venezuela severely and Maduro immediately said America is behind the “cyberattacks against the electrical, telecommunication and Internet systems.”