Chile provides refuge for member of Venezuelan opposition facing arrest

One of Venezuela's most prominent opposition leaders, Freddy Guevara, has sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence after being targeted for arrest by the Supreme Court.

Freddy Guevara subject of arrest warrant that Canada, other countries have condemned

Freddy Guevara, first vice-president of the National Assembly, is shown in Caracas on Aug. 19. (Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters)

One of Venezuela's most prominent opposition leaders has sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence after being targeted for arrest by the Supreme Court.

Chile's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile's humanitarian tradition. He entered the ambassador's residence in Caracas late Saturday with his girlfriend, ending more than 24 hours of suspense in which he went into hiding and vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police had surrounded his residence.

There were no sign of activity Sunday morning outside the ambassador's residence, located in an exclusive country club neighbourhood of walled-in estates, except for a few neighbours walking to the golf course.

On Friday, the government-stacked high court barred Guevara from leaving the country and requested the pro-government constitutional Assembly strip his immunity from prosecution. The court said Guevara is suspected of instigating unrest and other crimes during months of anti-government protests.

By law, the opposition-controlled National Assembly is charged with determining whether a legislator's constitutional immunity should be lifted. But the court has instead referred the case to the constitutional Assembly, which has been given virtually unlimited powers.

Guevara, vice-president of the congress, was at the forefront of opposition protests that mobilized hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans frustrated with their nation's spiral into political and economic crisis.

His Popular Will party called the accusations "inexistent crimes invented by the dictatorship." On Saturday, 12 Western Hemisphere governments — including Mexico, Brazil and Canada — issued a joint statement saying the targeting of Guevara by the high court was a "new blow to the rule of law and separation of powers in Venezuela."

There was no immediate reaction from the government.

But a similar diplomatic drama involving Chile unfolded earlier this year when five jurists appointed by the National Assembly to replace government loyalists on the Supreme Court sought asylum in Ambassador Pedro Ramirez's residence after their arrest was ordered.

The government considered the jurists usurpers and never granted them safe conduct to take up exile in Chile. After a more than two-month standoff they left the residence on their own will last month and were secretly ferried across the border to Colombia and from there flew to Santiago.