CARACAS, Venezuela — A fifth opposition mayor in Venezuela was removed from his post and ordered under arrest in a continuing crackdown by the struggling nation’s government on President Nicolás Maduro’s adversaries.
A small group of young people, some of them masked, set up barricades of strewn metal objects in the eastern Caracas district of El Hatillo on Thursday to protest the previous day’s Supreme Court decision to order Mayor David Smolansky imprisoned for 15 months for not obeying orders to shut down the protests.
We can’t allow “the dictatorship to hunt down, imprison and treat our mayors like criminals,” said Andres Páez, a lawyer who joined the protest.
Smolansky, a former student activist, issued a video from an undisclosed location in which he called on residents of the El Hatillo to take to the streets to uphold their right to representation against what he called the government’s “political firing squad.”
“I want to tell you all that I continue being a public servant by vocation and conviction,” Smolansky said, sounding defiant but at ease. “My commitment to restoring freedom in Venezuela remains intact.”
His arrest was ordered by the government-stacked Supreme Court less than 48 hours after it levied a similar sentence against Ramón Muchacho, another Caracas-area mayor. Opposition leaders decried both rulings, calling them part of an ongoing campaign by the high court to illegally remove anti-government mayors from their elected posts.
According to their figures, about a third of the nation’s opposition mayors have been removed from office or jailed or are under threat of arrest.
Gerardo Blyde, an opposition mayor of Burata, a city of more than 350,000 near the capital, equated it to a sort of “Russian roulette.”
“This is a continued coup against municipal public authority,” he said.
In a press conference Thursday, he said mayors can only be removed if they die, resign, are revoked in a popular vote or are apprehended for a criminal offense.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that Smolansky has been barred from leaving the country and directed the nation’s intelligence agency to alert Interpol to help “determine his whereabouts and capture outside national territory.”
Of the five mayors recently sentenced, just one is in jail. All others have managed to flee or remain underground.
The court also ordered that a copy of the decision be sent to Delcy Rodríguez, the president of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly and head of a “truth commission” approved shortly after its installation last Friday.
The commission will wield unusual power to prosecute and punish those who the government determines responsible for the last four months of unrest. Maduro has promised to use the commission to target key opposition leaders.
The constitutional assembly was slated to meet again Thursday, possibly to condemn the Trump administration’s new sanctions on several of its delegates.