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Venezuela Orders Arrest of Machado’s Campaign Manager, Top Aides

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s government ordered the arrest of nine top aides to opposition leader María Corina Machado on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in a plot to destabilize Nicolás Maduro’s government.

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Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab ordered the arrest of Machado’s campaign manager, Magalli Meda, as well as top aides Pedro Urruchurtu, Claudia Macero, Henry Alviarez, Dignora Hernandez and four others. Meda was rumored to replace Machado in upcoming presidential elections since the opposition primary winner has been banned from participating by Maduro’s government.

“The regime wants to close the path to a change because they know that they are defeated,” Machado said Wednesday from her party’s headquarters in Caracas. “The purpose is to isolate me, to neutralize me, because they believe that with this they will stop our fight, but they are wrong, this has no turning back.”

The arrest orders come amid a crackdown on dissent ahead of July elections and will add pressure on the Biden administration, which threatened to reimpose sanctions unless Maduro moved toward free and fair elections.

Read More: Arrest at Caracas Airport Triggers Protest, Warning From US

The continued wave of arrests “casts a pall over the Venezuelan people’s aspirations that Maduro and those around him would allow a competitive election,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols. He demanded the releases of Alviarez and Hernandez, who were arrested earlier on Wednesday, as well as the release of other political prisoners.

At least three other opposition officials have been detained this month, one of them belonging to Machado’s Vente Venezuela party and two others belonging to La Causa R, another party backing Machado.

Urruchurtu, Macero and Alviarez had been recently implicated in a separate plot to sabotage a referendum on the disputed Essequibo region in Guyana. Their charges were subsequently reduced as part of a deal with the US government that led to the release of ten Americans imprisoned in Venezuela.

The government set the date for the July 28 election earlier this month, putting pressure on the opposition which has until March 25 to select a challenger to Maduro.

Read More: Maduro to Run for Venezuela Reelection After Blocking Rival

(Updates with Machado’s comments in third paragraph, Nichols’ comments in fifth paragraph.)

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