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After Failed Coup, Maduro Moves Against Members Of Venezuelan Opposition

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to Venezuela, where the government is going after those involved in the botched effort last month to oust authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro. One opposition lawmaker who took part in the uprising has been arrested. Others have taken refuge in foreign embassies or gone underground or fled the country. Reporter John Otis has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking in Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: This panel discussion in Caracas about the government crackdown was supposed to include opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro. But he's been targeted for arrest and is nowhere to be found. Simon Gomez, a human rights lawyer who helped organize the event, explains why.

SIMON GOMEZ: He is definitely into peril. He can be detained at any moment. So that's why he decided not to be with us this afternoon. He should be here in a free country.

OTIS: Pizarro isn't the only lawmaker in trouble. On April 30, the opposition tried to convince the armed forces to stage a coup against Maduro. His government responded by jailing the vice president of the National Assembly, Venezuela's congress. Other legislators have been stripped of their diplomatic immunity, often a prelude to arrest. Luis Vicente Leon is a Caracas political analyst.

LUIS VICENTE LEON: They tried to kick Maduro out with the military. And Maduro now is answering with radical actions against the civil politicians, trying to destroy them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIOSDADO CABELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: On his TV program last week, Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful figure in the Maduro government, pointed at photos of the targeted legislators. Among those he singled out was Winston Flores.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CABELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Flores helped last month's rebellion by bringing supporters into the streets. But few showed up. The uprising collapsed, and Flores fled the country. He spoke to NPR by phone from Ecuador.

WINSTON FLORES: (Through interpreter) The feeling is overwhelming. I'm outside my country without my family and without much money.

OTIS: Flores doesn't know when he'll be able to go back to Venezuela, but he plans to spend his time in exile traveling around South America, drumming up support for the opposition. Five more legislators have sought refuge in foreign embassies in Caracas. But that doesn't bother supporters of the Maduro government, who are gathered outside the National Assembly building downtown.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED MADURO SUPPORTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

OTIS: "We'll always be loyal and never traitors," they chant.

AMILCAR MIRANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: One of the demonstrators, Amilcar Miranda, is an agricultural technician. He says the lawmakers are getting what they deserve for supporting an illegal coup. The exodus of lawmakers has further hollowed out Venezuela's National Assembly, the only branch of government controlled by the opposition. Even before they fled, Maduro had ignored its laws and stripped the body most of its powers.

This is the entrance to the National Assembly building, and we're not going to be able to get in because it's blocked off by riot police with shields that - forming a big line here, blocking off all the journalists.

One of the lawmakers entering the building is Renzo Prieto. He spent four years in prison for protesting against Maduro. Prieto tells me that he and his colleagues remain undeterred.

RENZO PRIETO: (Speaking Spanish.)

OTIS: He says, "unfortunately, the tyrant keeps abusing power, but we will keep up the fight."

John Otis, NPR News, Caracas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.