The plan was simple enough. It even looked promising. It was early April 30 when Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition in Venezuela and the internationally recognised interim president, appeared outside of the La Carlota Air Base in Carlota to announce that the “usurpation” was over and that operations to force Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power.
It was apparent who Guaidó was trying to rouse when he spoke to the “armed forces”, “brave soldiers”, and “brave men who believe in the constitution”. He was counting on the Venezuelan military to join his side and forego their part in the authoritarian stranglehold on the country under Maduro. He also encouraged Venezuelans to take to the streets and begin an uprising.
For many Venezuelans – who had witnessed their country dismantled by Hugo Chávez and then Maduro – the statement was nothing short of a shot at a chance of redemption. There was hope, but it was not to last. The plan was a complete failure.
It was less than a few hours before Guaidó was crushed under the weight of his ambitions. “Operation Freedom” was over before it began. Venezuelans didn’t flock to the streets like he hoped they would; as they had done a few weeks ago. The military didn’t break ranks even though the opposition claimed that they had been promised they would. Maduro himself came out of hiding to claim victory against the "coup", thanking the people of Venezuela for their courage and strength to stand against the coup.
The fallout was swift.
The vice president of the opposition-run parliament was arrested by Venezuelan secret police on Wednesday. The arrest was the first in a crackdown on opposition leaders who were involved in the failed coup attempt.
Edgar Zambrano reportedly refused to leave his car when he was approached by agents from the Venezuelan intelligence agency. As a result, the vehicle was towed to the notorious El Helicoide prison with Zambrano still inside it.
Zambrano was allegedly at the scene when Juan Guaidó called on the military to join him in his revolt against Maduro. The streets were filled with clashes involving supporters from both sides, but the military support that Guaidó expected never came.
Diosdado Cabello, Maduro’s second in command, appeared on television and announced that Edgar Zambrano had been detained and that he was one of the foremost leaders behind the coup. Guaidó responded to the arrest on Twitter, saying that Zombrano was “kidnapped”.
La dictadura ha secuestrado al Vicepresidente de la @AsambleaVE a manos de su policía política. Llegaron al absurdo de llevárselo en una grúa, a bordo de su vehículo, violando todos los procesos y exhibiendo el autoritarismo al cual obedecen.
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) May 9, 2019
The arrest was condemned by other opposition leaders in the country and international officials from around the world.
The Guardian reports that at least 10 National Assembly officials are looking at prosecution the opposition leader for a range of crimes including treason and civil rebellion for their role in the uprising.
The country has been locked in a political standoff since the re-election of Maduro in 2018. Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly, declared the election a sham and declared himself the interim president of the country. Several other countries, including the United States, have recognised Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.