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Storm Clouds
Mass Protests Looming in Venezuela?

The U.S. State Department called for the release of opposition leader and former Mayor of  San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, after he was removed from house arrest and placed in a Venezuelan prison. Reuters:

“The United States is deeply disturbed by the Venezuelan government’s decision to move opposition leader Daniel Ceballos from house arrest to prison,” [U.S. State Department spokesman John] Kirby said in a statement.

 “The basic underpinnings of the rule of law in Venezuela have degraded to an alarming degree. There is no place in a democratic society for employing the instruments of the state to bully, intimidate, and silence the political opposition.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denied that his government holds any political prisoners as Ceballos was being carted off to the clink. That’s far from the truth, according to estimates relayed by the New York Times last month:

When Nicolás Maduro became president after Hugo Chávez’s death from cancer in 2013, there were about a dozen prisoners of conscience, according to Foro Penal, a local nongovernmental organization. Today, the number hovers at around 100, and some 2,000 people are the subject of politically driven judicial prosecutions.

Ceballos was originally imprisoned for his alleged role in organizing protests in 2014 in San Cristobal, but was later released to his home for health reasons. He is now being shipped off to prison again because he had allegedly “attempted to escape from his home and planned to stir up violence.”

Opposition leaders have called for protesters to take to the streets on September 1 in connection to a recall referendum on Maduro’s presidency that the government has been fighting tooth-and-nail. In May, Maduro sent tanks and helicopters to suppress protesters after opposition politicians had gathered 1.85 million signatures demanding a referendum. If these upcoming protests live up to the hopes of opposition leaders (some are proclaiming that these will be “the largest demonstration in the country’s history”), and the army steps in again, we could be in for a very bloody week.

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