Venezuela intensifies crackdown on government critics

From the Washington PostCARACAS — The government of President Nicolás Maduro is intensifying its crackdown on opponents, raising fears of a broader campaign to silence and punish dissent.

Maduro loyalists issued a new arrest warrant for one prominent legislator and vowed to remove his immunity from prosecution in a case that could become a model for targeting other critics. A proposed measure that could imprison opponents for up to 25 years, observers say, could soon make that task easier.

“In its zeal to consolidate authoritarian rule, the government is hardening its course and is now clearly unwilling to tolerate those who advocate a different direction,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former U.S. diplomat who is now vice president of the Council of the Americas, a business group.

The pro-government supreme court issued an arrest warrant late Wednesday for German Ferrer, a national legislator and husband of Luisa Ortega Díaz, whose criticism of the government led to her ouster earlier this month from her job as chief prosecutor. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

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