CARACAS – Venezuela jailed two leading critics of President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday in a fresh blow to the opposition after the election of a new political body with sweeping powers to strengthen the hand of the leftist government.
The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro on Monday, calling him a “dictator” for Sunday’s election of a constituent assembly that the opposition boycotted and denounced as an affront to democracy.
In a statement announcing the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma, the pro-government Supreme Court said they were planning to flee the country and had violated terms of their house arrest by making political statements and speaking to media.
But government opponents called the abrupt removal of the men from their homes by security forces in nighttime raids a sign of Maduro’s determination to silence rivals. It was a view shared by U.S. President Donald Trump, who issued a statement condemning “the actions of the Maduro dictatorship.”
“Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime,” it said, calling “for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”
About 120 people have been killed in more than four months of anti-government street protests, including at least 10 during Sunday’s vote.
Maduro says the constituent assembly was designed to restore peace to Venezuela. Lopez and Ledezma had called for protests against Sunday’s vote. In addition to rewriting the constitution, the legislative superbody will have the power to dissolve the opposition-led congress, eliminating any institutional check on Maduro’s powers.
Lopez had been held more than three years in a military jail until last month, when he was unexpectedly released in what was seen as a potential breakthrough in the country’s political standoff.