Crackdown on Guaido Aides Snarls Chance of Election Cooperation

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Venezuelan officials vowed to step up pressure on the political opposition a day after harassing leader Juan Guaido and arresting his top lieutenant, complicating nascent talks aimed at setting ground rules for upcoming elections.

Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the national assembly and a deputy to President Nicolas Maduro, called for the arrests of members of the opposition Popular Will political party, whom he accused of working with criminal gangs to orchestrate plots to destabilize the government.

Crackdown on Guaido Aides Snarls Chance of Election Cooperation

Rodriguez’s claims come as European Union delegates are in the country to set terms for possible observation missions to local and state elections scheduled for November. The E.U.’s spokesman for external affairs said on Twitter that Monday’s arrest of opposition leader Freddy Guevara and the “harassment of other opponents and human rights activists hinders efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Pluralistic civic space = key in the upcoming elex.”

The opposition, which is split over whether to participate in the elections, is likely to be driven further into disarray now, said Ana Milagros Parra, an independent Caracas-based political analyst.

“It’s clearly a strategy to divide the opposition,” she said in an email. “The Popular Will party is the group that represents the greatest threat to the government, which is why they are being blamed for things they had nothing to do with.”

Guevara, who was charged Monday with terrorism and treason, is accused of having plotted with another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, to organize the shootings that shook Caracas last week and left more than 20 dead. Rodriguez told of the accusations in an appearance on state television, showing alleged text exchanges between the men. Lopez fled Venezuela last year and operates from abroad.

Rodriguez called for more arrests and ruled out negotiating pardons with Guaido.

“We are not going to go to any dialogue or negotiating table so that these criminals, murderers and terrorists go free to try again to perpetrate some act of violence,” he said.

Kevin O’Reilly, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary, said in an online conference hosted by the Atlantic Council that the arrest and harassment raise doubts about Maduro’s seriousness regarding free and fair elections.

Colette Capriles, a political scientist at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, said what seems to be happening is that “neutralizing Popular Will is the central objective of the government, and this puts the negotiations at risk.”

She described the government’s allegations as absurd but wondered about what threat it perceived, adding, “This has a high political cost for the government, so I wonder why now?”

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