By Jordan Flores.
The recent escape by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for Spain took by surprise not only the citizens but also the State security corps that, since his escape, have implemented one of his most common practices and one widely denounced in the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission: the persecution and detention of relatives and persons from the inner circle of the fugitives to obtain information, intimidate and, ultimately, extorting them for money.
On Saturday, October 24, the day the escape of the leader of the Voluntad Popular party became known, officials of the Bolivarian Service of National Intelligence (Sebin) arrested Nubia Campos, a woman who carried food to Lopez at the residence of the Spanish ambassador, where he was staying as a guest. Hours later, Ibrahim Sojo, Carlos Garcia, and Jose Neira, workers at the diplomatic headquarters, were also arrested.
Although they were interrogated and released 48 hours later, the persecution against López continues. This Monday, October 26, the Sebin raided the house of Diana Lopez, sister of Leopoldo, and took her sister-in-law, Nathaly Sifontes, into custody. Officers release her after 22 hours of interrogation at El Helicoide.
On the same night, Roland Carreño, a noted TV journalist now working for the party of López, was arrested with two other men.
The Attorney General charged Carreño with giving the men an assault rifle and $12,000 in cash for purposes of political violence. Carreño remains in custody while his supposed accomplices, one of them a VP coworker, were released.
A persecution pattern
Lopez is not the only opposition politician to see the collateral damage of his struggle. The interim president Juan Guaido has also received multiple attacks on his relatives, detention of assistants, bodyguards, and even his uncle, which occurred upon his return from his international tour in February of this year. Uncle Juan Jose has since been to house arrest on charges he tried to bring body armor and explosives into the country unlawfully.
Other opposition leaders have shared the same fate as López. Here is an overview of some opposition leaders whose loved ones have been persecuted by the state after their escape:
The regime arrested the former Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas on February 19, 2015, after being accused by the Maduro government of conspiring in the so-called Blue Coup, so named for the color of the Air Force uniforms of the officers allegedly involved. After a year in the Ramo Verde Military Prison, in February 2016, he was granted a measure of house arrest, remaining in his residence in Santa Rosa de Lima until November 2017, when he left the country clandestinely.
Ledezma crossed more than 29 checkpoints along her road trip to the state of Tachira, where he crossed the border into the city of Cúcuta, Colombia, passing military controls over the Simon Bolivar International Bridge. Then, he took a flight to Madrid, where he currently resides and remains an activist for the Soy Venezuela political platform.
The next day of the scape, the Villa Magna building, where the former Mayor lived and served his sentence, was taken over by Sebin officials, who arrested the guard of the residences, Jairo Atencia, as well as the janitor Frank Borges and the president of the condominium board, Ignacio Benitez. Hours later, they also arrested Nelson Teixera, owner of the company, in charge of the security cameras in the building.
The authorities assured that the men got detained as witnesses and released after 72 hours. However, according to statements by lawyer Joel Garcia collected by the website El Estímulo, “they were looking for a way to find out who had financed” the escape and to get all three involved in an illicit association scheme to keep them jailed.
The persecution did not end there. In the days that followed, several leaders of the Alianza Bravo Pueblo party, of which Ledezma was a founder, were intimidated and threatened and made more arrests at the office of former Mayor.
Then Director of Security of the Mayor Office, Carlos Luna; the ex-Director of Protocol, Elizabeth Cardenas; Gabriel Matute, Director of Human Talent; the Finance Manager, Carmen Catalina Andarcia, and Simon Zorrilla, an official assigned to the Security Department, were taken to El Helicoide.
All the detainees got released days later except Matute and Andacia. Both remain held at the Sebin headquarters since 2017.
Almost everyone agrees: the escape of the former director of the Investigacion Police was straight out of a Hollywood movie. In the middle of the night of May 16, 2019, he left his home, where he had already been under house arrest for three years, and descended with a rope down a 25-meter wall and then removed the two electronic location devices placed in his ankles. Simonovis had posted a video shortly before his escape of police installing the second device, criticizing the measure as excessive.
After reaching the coast, he set sail in a boat that ran out of fuel before reaching the intended destination but, he had already managed to leave the country and free himself from the more than 15 years in which he was the star political prisoner of the governments of Hugo Chavez and Maduro.
A month after the spectacular escape, on June 14, the defense lawyer of Simonovis, Enrique Perdomo, was arrested right in front of the ex-cop house while giving statements to the media after inspecting that the Sebin officials who seized the house had not stolen goods from the place. Perdomo was taken to El Helicoide, along with a neighbor named Joel Reyes, who was later released.
The lawyer was isolated for two days until he was carrying to the Palace of Justice, charged with obstruction of justice because the property he entered at the request of Simonovis’ wife had a seizure and security measure from Judge Carol Padilla. Perdomo remained in detention at the El Helicoide prison until August 31 of this year, when he received a pardon granted by Nicolas Maduro to 50 political prisoners.
Another person released on August 31 because of the pardon was Antonia Turbay, a 67-year old lawyer detained for one year and two months at Sebin accusing of been a neighbor of Simonovis. Days after Perdomo’s arrest, on June 27, 2019, agents raided the home of Turbay and took her away on the charge that she had helped Simonovis during his escape.
Although the 36th Control Court proved her innocence and issued a release order, the El Helicoide wardens, without justification, decided to keep her captive even though the same court ratified the measure two months later.
“They have taken me away from my family,” declared Turbay the night of her release, moved and in tears, as her daughter, who was her only family member in the country, had migrated to Colombia during her time in detention.
Captain Anyelo Julio Heredia Gervacio was assigned to Army Company 1047 in the state of Tachira, when in March 2017, he decided to denounce to the Public Prosecutor Office the corruption by the military corps in the smuggling of gasoline in that entity. Then, 20 days later, on March 30, he was detained and prosecuted in a military court on charges of treason, instigation of rebellion, and attacking the order of the nation by the National Armed Forces, as reported at the time by Foro Penal, a legal-aid NGO.
While detained in the Ramo Verde prison, the regime linked him as one of the authors of Operation Phoenix, an alleged failed assassination attempt against Maduro with explosive drones that took place on August 4, 2018.
However, on Christmas Day, December 25, 2019, the Captain managed to escape from the prison located in Los Teques, Miranda State, thanks to the help of two guards who were later apprehended.
Since his escape, Heredia has remained in hiding, although the General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence has done everything to find him, including attacking his family. On the first day of this year, the human rights lawyer, Tamara Suju, denounced that the military agents raided the house of Heredia, where they took under arrest five members of his family, including an eight-year-old boy, as well as a neighbor.
Suju shared a video on her social networks where a close family member named Heidi Martinez denounced that the parents, sister, brother-in-law, and a minor of the Captain got taken to the Dgcim headquarters in Boleita. The woman said in the video that the cops left a one-year-old baby in her care when they left.
“Captain Heredia escape brought a series of unfair reprisals against his family members because they are innocent and have no knowledge of what happened,” Suju said at the time.
Although the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, condemned the event and demanded from the Venezuelan government information about the state of the family Heredia to date their situation is still unknown.
Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho.