Venezuela’s highest court ordered Wednesday the arrest of an opposition mayor accused of refusing to obey the Supreme Court order to stem political violence in his municipality.
The Supreme Court (TSJ) sentenced El Hatillo municipality’s right-wing opposition mayor David Smolansky to 15 months imprisonment, and sacked him from his position. The TSJ found Smolansky failed to take measures to halt violent anti-government demonstrations in his municipality, including barricades that critics say bar freedom of movement for civilians.
In May, El Hatillo was among a group of municipalities ordered by the TSJ to ensure main thoroughfares remain clear of opposition barricades, and to crack down on anti-government violence.
Smolansky currently remains at large.
Since the TSJ’s ruling, the ex-mayor called on his supporters to continue their actions against the government from an undisclosed location. He dismissed the case against him as politically motivated.
His supporters responded Thursday morning by erecting new barricades in El Hatillo.
Smolansky is the fifth opposition politician ousted from their position in the past two weeks, as Venezuelan authorities vow to crack down on violent anti-government groups.
On Tuesday, Chacao’s mayor Ramon Muchacho was also sentenced to 15 months behind bars, and stripped of his government position.
Like Smolansky, Muchacho’s location remains unknown.
Chacao is one of the wealthiest areas of Caracas, and has long been a stronghold of the opposition. It and surrounding districts have been hard hit by protests and political violence over the past four months. The municipality has been the site of at least two deaths linked to unrest. In June, 21 year old bystander Orlando Figuera died after allegedly being attacked by opposition groups. According to witnesses, protesters accused Figuera of supporting the government, before beating him, soaking him in gasoline and torching him alive. A month earlier, opposition protester Juan Pablo Pernalete Lovera was killed amid clashes with security forces. The public prosecution has alleged he likely died as a result of being hit by a tear gas canister fired by the National Guard.
Figuera and Pernalete are just two of the estimated 126 Venezuelans who have died amid political violence and riots since April, according to data compiled by venezuelanalysis.com. At least 31 of these deaths have been attributed to the actions of anti-government groups, while at least 14 are believed to be linked to the use of force by state security personnel such as police and the National Guard.
The latest arrests came as the US unveiled new sanctions against Venezuela. On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced sanctions on high level government officials and members of state security forces. The sanctions include asset freezes, travel bans and a bar on business activities with US companies. Among those targeted was Adan Chavez, a legislator and brother of President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
The new sanctions have been condemned by Maduro officials, who have accused the US of seeking regime change in Caracas.
“We absolutely reject this act of aggression by the empire of North American, by the government of Washington, and we do not recognise any sanction against the people of Venezuela,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said.