Following news that Venezuelan secret police seized and then quickly released prominent opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Sunday, dramatic video emerged online which shows the violent arrest on a busy highway.
The 35-year-old head of Venezuela’s opposition-run parliament, who some argue is the rightful president of the country after last Thursday's swearing in ceremony of Nicolás Maduro for a second six-year term in what the US and other countries have deemed "illegitimate", was reportedly on his way to a political rally on Sunday when his car was stopped by masked and armed security forces.
After the men — reportedly members of Venezuela's SEBIN political police (or Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) — struggle to force their way into Guaido's vehicle with traffic halted, they appear to commandeer it and drive off.
His official twitter account confirmed that he’d been detained, with his political party issuing a statement that he was then released less than two hours later.
His wife, Fabiana Rosales, and daughter were reportedly traveling with him at the time, along with two foreign journalists, one from CNN en Español, who were also briefly detained.
Dramatic video showing the moment secret police rushed and seized Guaidó:
As the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela Guaidó stirred controversy following Maduro's contested re-election by challenging Maduro's rule in saying he was the only "legitimate power" that the Venezuelan people look to. He said at a political rally on Friday:
As President of the National Assembly, the only elected and legitimate power to represent the Venezuelan people, I have a responsibility to Venezuela: I stand by the Constitution...
Internationally pundits saw this as a significant challenge to Maduro's contested presidency as a direct, combative declaration that it remains illegal and invalid.
According to The Guardian:
On Friday the politician threw down the gauntlet to Hugo Chávez’s heir, telling a rally Maduro was an illegitimate “usurper” and declaring that he therefore had the constitutional right to assume leadership of the country until fresh elections were held. Several regional powers, including Brazil and Colombia, voiced support for that move.
Several Latin American leaders and groups immediately condemned Guaido's brief detention, which was clearly orchestrated to send a strong message that opposing the Maduro regime would be met with swift and severe punishment.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, expressed his “absolute condemnation” of what he said was “the kidnapping of Venezuela’s interim president”. “The international community must stop the crimes of Maduro and his goons,” Almagro tweeted.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodríguez, painted the whole thing as a misunderstanding, calling the detention a “unilateral and irregular” act carried out by "rogue agents", and claimed further those responsible would be dismissed. But in a separate interview with RT Spanish Rodriguez bizarrely claimed that “there was actually no detention. Several security service employees acted on their own and carried out an unlawful act at the Caracas highway.”
But previous to the violent arrest, Venezuela’s chavista prison minister, María Iris Varela Rangel, had tweeted a direct threat to Guaidó after his challenge to Maduro. She said:
I’ve already prepared your cell and your uniform, I hope you name your cabinet quickly so I know who is going down with you.
Immediately after his release on Sunday, Guaidó pointed out that Maduro's administration seems panicked and divided. “Look what they are doing. They are desperate in [the presidential palace] Miraflores! They don’t know who is giving the orders!” he said, calling on citizens and military members alike to unite against Maduro's rule.