Venezuela jails Hugo Chavez's ex-spy chief

Venezuela jails Hugo Chavezs ex-spy chief
Venezuela jails Hugo Chavez's ex-spy chief. Miguel Rodriguez Torres during his tenure as interior minister in 2014. picture-alliance/dpa/S. Donaire
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Venezuelan authorities interrupted a political rally on Tuesday to arrest Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a former spy chief and interior minister, now a member of a leftist movement that opposes Nicolas Maduro's government.

Rodriguez Torres was giving remarks at an anti-government rally of female activists in a Caracas hotel when he interrupted his speech, left the podium and told the audience that he had "received a notification" that required him "to urgently leave."

Read more: Venezuela calls early election, Maduro to seek second term

A former army general who participated alongside former President Hugo Chavez in a failed 1992 coup, Rodriguez Torres built the organization Movimiento Amplio Desafio de Todos (MADDT) with the hope of mounting a challenge to President Nicolas Maduro in elections. But the former interior minister was banned, along with other opposition candidates, from for running for office.

Venezuela's Interior Ministry released a statement saying Rodriguez Torres had been arrested on suspicion of planning "criminal activities" and conspiracy against the constitution.

Read more: Venezuela: A country in meltdown

Strong ties to Chavez

Rodriguez Torres was detained by half a dozen armed agents of the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (Sebin) intelligence police, the organization that he himself once led.

The 54-year-old former general was tasked in 2010 with creating and running the Sebin, as he was one of Chavez's most trusted aides. He led the organization and the Interior Ministry, briefly, during the 2014 protests that saw widespread repression from security forces against demonstrators and led to the arrest of prominent opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez.

In 2015, Rodriguez Torres was dismissed from his post by Maduro. He then became an outspoken critic of the government, and his movement offered an alternative to both the established opposition and the governing Socialist party.

Read more: Venezuela: Democracy under fire

Opposition parties demand release

The arrest comes as part of Maduro's recent crackdown on dissent, amid an economic and humanitarian crisis. The Venezuelan president has ordered the arrest of political rivals, opposition figures and dozens of oil executives.

MADDT spokeswoman Indira Urbaneja denounced the arrest, calling it "intimidation" and saying there was no basis for it. Urbaneja said the arrest showed "the desperation of the Maduro government" as it finds itself unable to solve the real political, economic and social problems in Venezuela.

Although the opposition has accused Rodriguez Torres of human rights abuses and repression on behalf of the Venezuelan government, they stood by him after the arrest.

The Frente Amplio Venezuela of the united opposition party coalition condemned his arrest in a statement, in which it "strongly" rejected what it considered a "violation of due process." The opposition also said the Venezuelan government is currently holding some 300 political prisoners and demanded their release.

During his speech on Tuesday, prior to his arrest, Rodriguez Torres called for electoral authorities to uphold Venezuela's constitution and provide guarantees that the upcoming presidential election will be free and fair.

"Once those conditions are reached we should select one candidate to begin that electoral process to begin transforming the reality we are living today," he told those present.

In an interview in 2017 with The Associated Press, Rodriguez Torres accused Maduro of destroying Venezuela's economy, failing to rein in violence by pro-government militias and silencing critics. He supported the elimination of foreign currency controls and advocated for Venezuela to seek financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

jcg/sms (AP, AFP, EFE)

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