Venezuela Mayor Is Accused of U.S.-Backed Coup Plot

| Feb. 21, 2015 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by New York Times

The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who was arrested last week by intelligence agents, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy against the Venezuelan government and plotting an American-backed coup.

The government said late Friday that charges had been brought against Mr. Ledezma, 59, and that he would be moved from a military intelligence facility to the Ramo Verde military prison just outside the capital, which for a year has housed Leopoldo López, an opposition figure who was charged with inciting major antigovernment unrest.

Mr. Ledezma’s lawyer, Omar Estacio, said Saturday that the maximum jail time for the charges would be 25 years.

“The accusations are weak, and we believe we will win a favorable decision,” said Mr. Estacio. “The family is, of course, worried, but Mr. Ledezma remains calm and optimistic.”

President Nicolás Maduro appeared on state television the night after Mr. Ledezma’s arrest on Thursday and railed against the United States, specifically comments from the White House on Friday that the Obama administration was considering “tools” to “better steer the Venezuelan government.”

“For a long time in Latin America, we have stripped away American imperialist aggression,” Mr. Maduro said in a speech to a crowd of supporters. “I feel sorry for President Obama because he is trapped in an alley without an exit, and he now thinks the way out is to attack Venezuela.”

Mr. Maduro then criticized those in Venezuela he saw as conspiring with Washington.

“In Venezuela, no one is untouchable,” he said. “The coup plotting is over. Whoever wants to seek that past will be met with the fist of the people, an iron fist.”

Small protests have taken place across Venezuela against Mr. Ledezma’s arrest. The president’s approval ratings are in very low, thanks in large part to a crumbling economy with an annual inflation rate of about 70 percent and major shortages of basic goods.

The arrest of Mr. Ledezma and the repeated criticism of the United States by the government are seen by critics as an effort to divert attention from the country’s problems before legislative elections late this year and a potential referendum in 2016 for a change of government.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, an opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate, said Friday that the government’s days were numbered.

“It’s so obvious. This revolution is over,” Mr. Capriles said. “They don’t want elections because they know they will lose.”

Mr. Maduro said that further evidence of a United States-backed coup attempt would be presented. The president’s primary ammunition against Mr. Ledezma was an open letter earlier this month calling for a “national agreement for a transition,” and signed by Mr. Ledezma, Mr. López and María Corina Machado, an opposition politician charged in December with plotting to assassinate Mr. Maduro.