Published by Economist Intelligence Unit
The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested on February 19th by Venezuelan intelligence agents, after the president, Nicolás Maduro, accused him of involvement in a coup plot against the government.
The opposition mayor was detained by armed intelligence agents at his Caracas office. Shots were fired into the air to disperse gathered crowds. He was taken to the headquarters of the country's intelligence agency in, known as the Helicoide.
Mr Maduro appeared on state television soon after the arrest claiming that Mr Ledezma had committed crimes against the peace of the country and was involved in a US-backed coup plot against his government. One piece of evidence for his involvement in the apparent conspiracy was an open letter co-signed by Mr Ledezma last week calling for a transition government in Venezuela. The following day, he was officially charged with conspiring against the government.
Coup-plot allegations of this kind are used frequently by Venezuelan authorities, often to distract from domestic problems. The target is often the US. Little serious evidence has previously been provided, prompting critics to suggest that such allegations are a charade designed to detract attention from the government's economic problems.
Hundreds gathered in Caracas in protest at the arrest. Prominent opposition figures, such as a two-time presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, and a radical opposition figure, María Corina Machado, called for Mr Ledezma's release. Leopoldo López, a hardline opposition leader who was arrested just over a year ago for his role in inciting major anti-government protests, remains in jail. Two other mayors were also detained after last year's protests, including Daniel Ceballos of San Cristóbal, where the unrest began.
Mr Ledezma, while respected among the opposition, is not a major opposition player and so his arrest was not expected. There have been bigger threats to detain Ms Machado, for example. However, other opposition figures remain concerned that they may be next.
Impact on the forecast
We do not believe that Mr Ledezma's arrest will succeed in detracting attention from Venezuela's economic problems, nor will it derail the opposition's election campaign. We continue to believe that the opposition stands a good chance of securing a majority in the September 2015 legislative polls.