Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles says he was harassed in a Margarita Island airport for four hours by armed and hooded government supporters.
The tense standoff ended after midnight Wednesday when the supporters withdrew from an area close to baggage claim where they awaited Capriles and a delegation of opposition politicians traveling with him.
The chaotic scene rippled through social media as Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential elections to socialist Nicolás Maduro, broadcast live videos and tweeted from inside the military-controlled airport.
In one grainy video, a small group of people can be seen banging on a glass wall and holding a sign reading “Capriles: Get out of Margarita.” But while Capriles said they were armed, no weapons could be seen in the video.
“You coward Nicolás Maduro. You sent armed groups for me to Margarita airport,” Capriles said in on message posted late at night.
“Is this how you’re going to receive those at the Summit?,” he wrote, referring to the foreign government delegations attending next week’s scheduled gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Caribbean island.
Government supporters immediately dismissed Capriles’ claims.
“If he continues like this he’s going to end up saying he hears voices,” said Diosdado Cabello, a former president of the National Assembly and the No. 2 leader of the ruling socialist party after Maduro.
As tensions in Venezuela run high amid a deepening economic crisis and opposition demands Maduro’s term be cut short Margarita, once a tourist mecca, has emerged as a hotbed of political activity.
In addition to planned demonstrations at next week’s summit, to which more than a hundred governments have been invited, the island was the site last week of a spontaneous protest against Maduro by residents of a poor neighborhood who confronted him banging pots and pans loudly in his face. A prominent journalist remains detained on charges of financial crimes after he broadcast a video of the incident on a website that covers news about the island.
Capriles, however, said he hadn’t traveled to Margarita to further stir political emotions but rather pay homage to the Virgin of the Valley as he does every year on the day honoring her.
He accused the government of ordering the harassment and said he’d alert foreign governments whose delegations will arrive at the airport for next week’s summit.