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World Venezuela arrests former minister who became vocal government critic

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Venezuelan government on Tuesday arrested a former interior minister who had become a prominent government critic, claiming he had plotted violent attacks in the country.

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Miguel Rodríguez Torres play

Miguel Rodríguez Torres

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The arrest of the former minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, is the latest of a political opponent as President Nicolás Maduro has sought to consolidate power in Venezuela.

Maduro is running for another six-year term in an election in May, but many of his most popular rivals have been jailed or barred from running.

The authorities announced the arrest of Rodríguez Torres on state television after he was detained at a hotel in Caracas, the capital, late Tuesday. Rodríguez Torres, a television announcer said, had planned “armed acts and a conspiracy against the constitution.” The statement also accused him of having had ties to U.S. intelligence agencies.

The government said Rodríguez Torres had worked with unnamed accomplices, raising the prospect that more people could be arrested.

Valentin Hereira, a member of Rodríguez Torres’s political team, said the former minister had not been allowed to see a lawyer and the only knowledge his advisers had of the charges was from the televised statement.

Rodríguez Torres, a confidant of former President Hugo Chávez, had been considered one of the earliest stalwarts of Chávez’s political movement. He joined Chávez in a failed coup attempt in 1992 and spent two years in jail.

He served in Chávez’s government as chief of the secret police, and under Maduro was the interior minister before being abruptly fired in 2014.

Recently, Rodríguez Torres emerged as one of the most vocal critics to break with Maduro’s leftist movement. A tipping point came during protests last year when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand that Maduro step down.

In an interview last year, Rodríguez Torres sided with the protesters.

“Protesting is a right,” Rodríguez Torres said. “Who is not angry in this country? Who doesn’t have to skip work now because they have to go searching for medicine? Who doesn’t skip work because the minimum wage doesn’t allow them to buy their most basic food?”

After Maduro used force to quell the protests and created a new body that sidelined the country’s Congress, Rodríguez Torres began appearing publicly with members of the opposition.

Opposition politicians came to his defense Tuesday.

“Miguel Rodríguez Torres also has human rights, and as a Venezuelan they’re important to me, too,” wrote Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, the former secretary-general of the coalition of opposition parties.

As Maduro consolidated power, few were as willing to go as far as Rodríguez Torres in their criticism. One exception was Luisa Ortega, the country’s ousted attorney general, who tried to stop Maduro from using military courts to prosecute protesters. But Ortega fled the country shortly before the government charged her and her husband with criminal offenses.

By contrast, Rodríguez Torres stayed, continuing his criticism from within Venezuela’s borders.

“The government needs a president who is the head of state, one who can govern, and we don’t have this here,” he said in the interview last year. “We have so many problems that we can’t assume coherent policies — we can’t end our crime, we can’t resolve our economic problems.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

ANA VANESSA HERRERO and NICHOLAS CASEY © 2018 The New York Times

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