CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuelan police have determined that the Nov. 25 murder of an opposition activist during a campaign rally for the upcoming congressional vote was the result of a gang dispute and not linked to politics, the interior minister said yesterday.
Luis Diaz, a local leader of opposition party Democratic Action, was gunned down in the central state of Guarico.
His party’s national leader, Henry Ramos, has pointed the finger at the Socialist Party for Diaz’s death. “We are demonstrating the truth of what happened,” Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez told a news conference, “… a death among criminals and mafia members disputing territory.”
“It is up to the political leaders to explain why this sort of person was in this position.”
Opposition leaders have been denouncing what they say is hostility against their candidates, including several incidents of shooting in the air during campaign events.
Diaz’s murder drew swift condemnation from the United Nations, the United States as well as South American regional bloc UNASUR, which has sent a mission to observe the election.
Venezuelans vote on Sunday in Congressional elections that polls show could hand the opposition control of the legislature amid voter frustration over chronic product shortages, soaring prices and a shrinking economy.
President Nicolas Maduro says the opposition’s treatment of Diaz’s death was meant to tarnish the reputation of the Socialist Party in the run-up to the vote. One party leader threatened to sue Democratic Action for defamation.
Campaigning formally comes to an end on Thursday and Maduro has appeared around the country at televised rallies promising a major victory for the Socialist Party.
At a rally from the western state of Lara on Wednesday afternoon, he said he had ordered the detention of a supermarket manager after spotting queues outside a store.
“They were well-stocked but they made the people suffer in line,” he shouted to supporters. “It’s a psychological tactic used by these bourgeois bandits.”
He previously described another incident in which a supermarket manager was detained for the same reason. “Where we see … people are made to queue, there will be prisoners!”
The president has said he would jail the manager of Kraft Heinz’ Venezuelan operations if the company was found to have committed “sabotage.”
Critics blame strict government controls and mismanagement for shortages of basics – leading to long lines – and say such detentions are part of populist measures that fail to address fundamental problems.