CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela cut off the transmission of a speech by opposition leader Henrique Capriles Wednesday using a system of national broadcasts known as “cadena” after he said this month’s election was “robbed.”
Capriles said he would give the national electoral council until Thursday to announce news of an expanded vote audit before his speech, broadcast on the Globovision television network, was interrupted to play a recorded government message.
“The cadena shows the fear they have about Venezuelans defending their rights,” Capriles said. “If they are so sure, let them audit the vote.”
Venezuela’s National Assembly Wednesday set up a commission to determine whether Capriles is responsible for violence that erupted after the opposition contested the April 14 election. Prisons Minister Iris Varela said on April 23 that she has a cell prepared for the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.
“I have a clear conscience, and all of their threats show weakness,” Capriles said. “They robbed the election, and that’s the reality.”
Capriles said he would announce “legal and international actions” Thursday if the national electoral council does not start the vote audit.
Capriles, 40, said that the opposition would not accept a “badly” done audit and that he wanted access to voter registration books. The national electoral council said on April 20 that an expanded vote audit would not change “irreversible” election results.
Violence erupted in the country last week after President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in April 19 following the electoral council’s decision to declare him the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote, refused Capriles’s request for a full ballot recount and accused him of inciting a coup.
The electoral council agreed to extend an audit of the 15 million votes cast in the wake of street protests that left nine dead and 78 injured, according to the state prosecutor.
“The deaths ordered by the fascist murderer Capriles cannot go unpunished,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said Wednesday in a message on his Twitter account. “The investigations are going forward.”
“Capriles is the intellectual author of these crimes and will not go unpunished,” Varela said on state television. “The only good news for you is that the prison waiting for you, Capriles Radonski, is not like the ones we inherited from the previous governments.”
The National Assembly commission will determine whether Capriles, who received 49 percent of the vote, is responsible for the violence after he called on his supporters to “unleash your anger” about the electoral results. Capriles said April 17 that his call was for people to vent their anger through peaceful demonstration involving synchronized banging of pots and pans at home, a traditional form of protest in Latin America known as a “cacerolazo.”
“What I called for was a cacerolazo,” Capriles said during a news conference in Caracas. “How can it be a crime to demand a recount?”
“If they want to bring me to trial, what’s their reason?,” Capriles said Wednesday. “For asking that the vote boxes be opened? For asking people to bang pots and pans? If that’s the cost, then do it fast. Don’t keep threatening.”
The government has an arrest order out on Capriles, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said April 17 on his Twitter account without saying where he obtained the information.
State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said Wednesday that the government is investigating attacks on more than a dozen health centers across the country.
“Why did they go to specific places around the country?” Ortega said in comments broadcast on state television. “There had to be an instruction, a direction, a direct or subliminal message.”
The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights, or Provea, a Caracas-based nongovernmental organization, said April 18 that its investigations found no evidence that health centers had been attacked.
“We’ll see if we can get that fascist thinking out of you there. We’re going to rescue you as a human being, first by giving you a rehabilitation that you urgently need,” Varela said.
The government is unlikely to follow through with its threats to imprison Capriles since it would convert its opponent into a martyr whom the election showed has the support of half the country, said James Lockhart, head of Latin America at risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“These threats are designed to bolster support from their domestic supporters and push Capriles into backing down,” Lockhart said Wednesday in a phone interview from London. “The government will be treading very carefully because given the controversy of the electoral results and the continuing opposition of the United States, throwing Capriles in jail would provoke a much wider range of international criticism.”
“In what civilized country would the Prison Minister hold a press conference to accuse an opposition candidate of violence and say that she has a cell for him — even before he has been convicted,” Russ Dallen, head bond trader at Caracas Capital Markets, said Wednesday in an emailed response to questions. “Obviously, the legitimacy of the Maduro presidency is hanging by a thread and the Chavistas are circling the wagons to try and save it.”
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