Venezuelan intelligence implicated in protest deaths

Seven members of the intelligence service have been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of a demonstrator and a government supporter after a major protest march in Venezuela.
The announcement of the charges appeared to contrast with repeated claims by top government officials that the political opposition was responsible for violence accompanying a wave of protests that has swept the country.
Yet the charges also appeared to be part of growing intrigue swirling around the intelligence service and possible maneuvers within the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The national prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the seven members of the intelligence force, known as the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or Sebin, had been charged in the deaths on Feb. 12 of Bassil Da Costa, the protester, and Juan Montoya, the government supporter.
The statement said five of the intelligence officers were arrested on Monday, but it was not clear when they were formally charged. Two others were charged previously, it said.
All seven were being held in jail, as well as an eighth member of the service who was charged with lesser crimes.
The deaths of Mr. Da Costa and Mr. Montoya were the first of about a dozen associated with protests that began early this month and gained momentum after the killings.
The deaths occurred after a march through the center of Caracas that was called to protest the arrest of several students in earlier demonstrations. After the peaceful march, a few hundred young protesters threw rocks at the police, broke windows in a government building and burned several police vehicles.
The two men were shot during the chaos. Another protester was killed later that day when, according to witnesses, a man on a motorcycle fired on a group of demonstrators.
Mr. Maduro immediately blamed a prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, for the violence and ordered him arrested, saying that he had trained young people to spread violence during the protests as part of a conspiracy to topple his government. Mr. López turned himself in last week, and he was charged with inciting violence. He has denied the accusations and called for peaceful protests.
The protests, fueled by economic problems, high crime and dissatisfaction with the government’s socialist-inspired policies, continued on Wednesday. Government supporters also marched in several cities.
But the arrests announced on Wednesday appeared also to be linked to broader questions around the intelligence service.
Within days of the killings, Mr. Maduro announced that members of the service had disobeyed an order to stay off the streets during the protest. He also said that men in Sebin uniforms had been seen lurking around Mr. López’s home, although there was no order for them to go there, and he warned of a plot to murder Mr. López.
Soon after that, he reassigned the head of the service, who had been on the job only a few weeks. He also hinted that if members of the intelligence service had been present at the march, they might have been part of a conspiracy against the government.
All that has watchers of the conspiracy-minded Mr. Maduro alert to possible hidden meanings in the prosecutor’s moves.
“This is going to be a novel in installments,” said José Vicente Haro, a constitutional lawyer close to the opposition. “We get one chapter today, another the next day, another the next day and so on until we can decipher the answer to the mystery, in the best style of Agatha Christie.”

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