CARACAS, Venezuela – A young bodyguard of President Nicolás Maduro was shot dead after leaving an Army club, an incident that came just hours after two state agents were detained for a murder they are blamed for committing themselves.
The security guard, 29-year-old Army lieutenant Marco Antonio Cortez, was shot and killed while driving his car on the Valle-Coche freeway in the far south of Caracas near the La Rinconada neighborhood.
Cortez was leaving the Círculo Militar de la FANB – La Rinconada, a private meeting hall and event center for members of the FANB, the National Armed Forces of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. This building abuts the Valle-Coche freeway, which leads into the wealthy eastern Caracas neighborhoods to the north.
The Army lieutenant was leaving the center in his automobile, along with his wife and brother, at approximately 5:00 local time when a car pulled alongside him. Several armed gunmen opened fire on Cortez’s car and the bodyguard was hit three times while his two passengers were unharmed.
Cortez was taken to the nearby Fort Tiuna Hospital where efforts to save his life were unsuccessful while his Toyota Yaris was taken by authorities to be inspected by forensic experts.
The victim had served as a presidential bodyguard for the last six years, working security detail for former President Hugo Chávez and his successor Maduro.
Early investigative reports have not found a reason for the death yet, but given his position and the fact that the other passengers were not targeted has led to suspicions of a politically-motivated attack.
Meanwhile, following another death, this one of an anti-government demonstrator in February, two agents of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) have been detained after a lengthy investigation.
GNB agents Franklin Armando García and Paola Marlene Barroso were detained earlier this week and prosecutors decided to charge the two for their alleged involvement in the death of 23-year-old Geraldine Moreno.
Moreno, a student at the private Arturo Michelena University in the city of Valencia, was taking part in an anti-government demonstration on February 19 when she was wounded by shrapnel that resulted from shots fired by the GNB agents. She later died at the Northern Metropolitan Hospital in Valencia, Carabobo State.
The Sixth Criminal Tribunal of that state, commissioned by the government to deliver legal measures against police and military officials, brought the charges against García and Barroso, whose crimes are “clearly defined and penalized under the Criminal Code of Venezuela.”
García, a second Sergeant in the GNB, was charged with premeditated murder, misuse of an official weapon and the breaking of local and international conventions dealing with police abuse.
Barroso, an agent, was charged with being an accomplice to premeditated murder, along with the two charges that García also received.
While internal issues are at play, the Maduro administration is keeping an eye on external affairs, as well.
Juan Carlos Varela, the President-Elect of Panama, was given a congratulatory phone call by Maduro shortly after this weekend’s election. Varela, who is set to assume the presidency of Panama on July 1, said that both he and Maduro consider it a “priority” to restore diplomatic relations between Caracas and Panama City.
“Both leaders reassured their firm commitment to continue promoting Latin American and Caribbean integration and support within the framework of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC),” read a press release from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.
The two reminisced on their former positions of Foreign Ministers, with Varela serving in the charge from 2009 to 2011 and Maduro from 2006 to 2013. Furthermore, both men, who have now climbed to the highest political position in their respective nations, were Vice-Presidents prior to assuming their current roles.
Varela stressed that his nation still calls for “dialogue, social peace and respect to the freedom of expression and human rights in the brother nation of Venezuela,” but that call is in line with the absolute majority of other Latin American nations, and Maduro himself has urged dialogue.
In March, Venezuela officially broke off diplomatic relations with Panama after the Central American nation asked for an extraordinary summit of the Organization of American States (OAS) to convene in order to discuss the situation in Venezuela with an eye on possible punishment.
Maduro accused Panama’s right-wing President Ricardo Martinelli of being a “puppet” and a “lackey” for Washington. Martinelli went another step further when he gave up his seat at a summit of the Permanent Council of the OAS to María Corina Machado, an opposition (now former) Deputy for the state of Miranda.
Martinelli gave up his position to speak during the meeting in order to let Machado speak on his, and Panama’s, behalf as an alternate representative and thus, on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition.
Machado was eventually removed from her position in the Venezuelan National Assembly because she had “accepted a role as an alternate Ambassador of Panama to the OAS,” which violated Articles 149 and 191 of the Venezuelan constitution that prohibit Venezuelan Deputies from taking on a professional task while simultaneously serving a term in the National Assembly.