On March 21st, Venezuelan authorities detained Roberto Marrero, the Chief of Staff of US-proclaimed Venezuelan President Juan Guaido.
Guaido confirmed the arrest, calling for his immediate release.
Secuestraron a @ROBERTOMARRERO, jefe de mi despacho. El denunció a viva voz que le sembraron dos fusiles y una granada, se lo dijo al diputado @SergioVergaraG, su vecino. El procedimiento comenzó a las 2 am aprox. Desconocemos su paradero. Debe ser liberado de inmediato.— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) March 21, 2019
“They have kidnapped @Robertomarrero, my chief of staff. Two rifles and a grenade were planted.”
Guaido also added the Caracas residences of Marrero and another opposition official Sergio Vergara had been raided before dawn.
Marrero sent a last-minute voice note as the agents were trying to enter his house, saying, “Look after the president”. The voice note was shared with reporters by Guaido’s press team.
Sergio Vergara posted a video on Twitter also confirming Marrero’s arrest.
Esta madrugada el régimen usurpador allanó ilegalmente mi residencia y la de @ROBERTOMARRERO, jefe de despacho del Presidente @jguaido, LO SECUESTRARON y le sembraron armas.— SERGIO VERGARA G. (@SergioVergaraG) March 21, 2019
La lucha por la mejor Venezuela continua. Este nuevo atropello nos da la fuerza para seguir adelante. pic.twitter.com/Y7XRAcwVlT
“They asked me if I knew where Roberto Marrero lived, which I didn’t respond to,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the US condemns the detention and called for his immediate release. All those involved would be held accountable.
The United States condemns raids by Maduro’s security services and detention of Roberto Marrero, Chief of Staff to Interim President @jguaido. We call for his immediate release. We will hold accountable those involved.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 21, 2019
US National Security Adviser John Bolton also said that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “made another big mistake.” He also called for Marrero’s immediate arrest.
Maduro has made another big mistake. The illegitimate arrest of Roberto Marrero, Interim President Juan Guaidó’s aide, will not go unanswered. He should be released immediately and his safety guaranteed.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 21, 2019
The UK Foreign Secretary Sir Alan Duncan also criticized the arrest and that these actions would not go unnoticed.
Appalled by the arrest of @ROBERTOMARRERO, Chief of Staff to interim President of Venezuela @jguaido, and the violation of the parliamentary immunity of @SergioVergaraG MP. The international community is watching. Those responsible for abuses will be held to account. #Venezuela— Sir Alan Duncan MP (@AlanDuncanMP) March 21, 2019
The UN Human Rights office also expressed its concern over arrest, they urged the Venezuelan government to respect due process and reveal Marrero’s whereabouts.
#Venezuela: We are concerned about the detention of #RobertoMarrero, chief of staff of the President of the National Assembly, by members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Services. We urge the Government to strictly respect due process & immediately reveal his whereabouts.— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) March 21, 2019
It is likely that the arrest is a way to pressure the opposition, without directly arresting or taking action against Juan Guaido himself, who is under the US’ explicit protection.
On the previous day, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro condemned the US and accused it of withholding $5 billion from Venezuela, which were meant to purchase supplies to produce medicines.
“A tremendous effort is made so that free and quality health reaches all the people, to be able to bypass all the aggression of Donald Trump’s government”, said President Maduro during an official act to relaunch the national pharmaceutical industry.
In terms of US economic pressure, on March 19th, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Venezuela’s state-run gold mining company Minerven, which is part of the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation (CVG) holding.
“The illegitimate Maduro regime is pillaging the wealth of Venezuela while imperiling indigenous people by encroaching on protected areas and causing deforestation and habitat loss. Maduro’s scheme to usurp the National Assembly’s authority and strip Venezuela of natural resources has exposed local communities to dangerous toxins,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Treasury is targeting gold processor Minerven and its President for propping up the inner circle of the corrupt Maduro regime. We will aggressively pursue those involved with Maduro’s reckless illicit gold trade which is contributing to this financial, humanitarian, and environmental crisis.”
On March 20th, the official response by the Venezuelan Government was posted on Twitter by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
El Gobierno de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela expresa su contundente rechazo a las peligrosas declaraciones de los presidentes de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, y del Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, el día de hoy martes19 de marzo de 2019. Comunicado Oficial: pic.twitter.com/XuI3fGpWXu— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) March 20, 2019
The Maduro government declared it was “grotesque to see two heads of state with such important international responsibilities justify war without any distension, in a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter.”
Arreaza added that the Venezuelan government is concerned about the “U.S. warmongering influence over Brazil and the supremacist thesis of Donald Trump over Jair Bolsonaro.” The statement emphasized that Venezuela denounces once again the threats of military intervention before the international community. “No neofascist alliance will succeed in overcoming the independent and sovereign will of the Venezuelan people,” it concludes.
Furthermore, in response to Venezuelan opposition seizing diplomatic properties in the US, the Venezuelan government condemned the move.
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced that the country’s diplomatic premises in the United States have been forcibly seized by Washington-backed agents.
“In a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, our diplomatic buildings have been seized”, said Arreaza in an official statement, adding that according to the 1961 Convention “Venezuela’s diplomatic assets in the U.S. can only be used by the official personnel that represent the democratic and constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro.”
Meanwhile, on the US side, during a press conference with US Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams “went on record to say the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a resolution that essentially goes against the country’s constitution. He says they voted for the 30-day term of the self-declared interim president, opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, to start once President Nicolas Maduro steps down.”
All of these developments followed an announcement by Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, according to which Maduro would undertake a deep government restructuring, to preserve the Venezuelan government.
El Pdte @NicolasMaduro ha solicitado a todo el Gabinete Ejecutivo poner sus cargos a la orden a los efectos de una reestructuración profunda de los métodos y funcionamiento del gobierno bolivariano para blindar la Patria de Bolívar y Chávez ante cualquier amenaza!— Delcy Rodríguez (@DrodriguezVen) March 17, 2019
“President @NicolasMaduro has asked the entire executive Cabinet to put their roles up for review in a deep restructuring of the methods and functions of the Bolivarian government, to protect the fatherland of Bolivar and Chavez from any threat.”
Whether that means he would also resign after the restructuring is unclear, but also unlikely.