CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is threatening to imprison the opposition’s candidate for violence that left nine dead following the April 14 election.
Venezuela’s National Assembly on Wednesday set up a commission to determine whether Henrique Capriles Radonski is responsible for the violence a day after Prisons Minister Iris Varela said she has a cell prepared for the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.
“The deaths ordered by the fascist murderer Capriles cannot go unpunished,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said Wednesday in a message on his Twitter account. “The investigations are going forward.”
Violence erupted in the country last week after Maduro, who was sworn in April 19 following the electoral council’s decision to declare him the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote, refused Capriles’s request for a full ballot recount and accused him of inciting a coup. The electoral council agreed to extend an audit of the 15 million votes cast in the wake of street protests that left nine dead and 78 injured, according to the state prosecutor.
The National Assembly commission will determine whether Capriles, who received 49 percent of the vote, is responsible for the violence after he called on his supporters to “unleash your anger” about the electoral results. Capriles said April 17 that his call was for people to vent their anger through peaceful demonstration involving synchronized banging of pots and pans at home, a traditional form of protest in Latin America known as a “cacerolazo.”
“What I called for was a cacerolazo,” Capriles said during a news conference in Caracas. “How can it be a crime to demand a recount?”
A spokesman for Capriles, who requested anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak publicly, declined to comment. Capriles said Wednesday on his Twitter account he will make announcements in the coming hours.
The government has an arrest order out on Capriles, opposition leader Leopoldo López said April 17 on his Twitter account without saying where he obtained the information.
State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said Wednesday that the government is investigating attacks on more than a dozen health centers across the country.
“Why did they go to specific places around the country?” Ortega said in comments broadcast on state television. “There had to be an instruction, a direction, a direct or subliminal message.”
The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights, or Provea, a Caracas-based nongovernmental organization, said April 18 that its investigations found no evidence that health centers had been attacked.
Calls for Capriles to be imprisoned for the post-election violence have been echoed by other members of Maduro’s alliance.
“Capriles is the intellectual author of these crimes and will not go unpunished,” Prisons Minister Iris Varela said yesterday on state television. “The only good news for you is that the prison waiting for you, Capriles Radonski, is not like the ones we inherited from the previous governments. We’ll see if we can get that fascist thinking out of you there.”
The government is unlikely to follow through with its threats to imprison Capriles since it would convert its opponent into a martyr whom the election showed has the support of half the country, said James Lockhart, head of Latin America at risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“These threats are designed to bolster support from their domestic supporters and push Capriles into backing down,” Lockhart said Wednesday in a phone interview from London. “The government will be treading very carefully because given the controversy of the electoral results and the continuing opposition of the U.S., throwing Capriles in jail would provoke a much wider range of international criticism.”
— With assistance from Jose Orozco and Corina Pons in Caracas and Anatoly Kurmanaev in Bogota.
© 2013, Bloomberg