López ‘strong and focused’ despite charges
Venezuelan opposition leader could face up to 13 years in prison as news of brother’s death emerges
CARACAS — Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López remains “strong and focused,” despite being held in solitary confinement in a military jail, his wife Lilian Tintori said in an interview.
“He is strong, he is focused and very clear about the things that are happening in Venezuela right now,” Tintori told The Telegraph, after her husband was formally charged with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy on Friday.
López, a Harvard-educated economist who is leader of the Popular Will party, has been held in a military prison since he was arrested on February 18 in the midst of a massive opposition protest rally.
Local media reported yesterday that López’s adopted brother, Luis Gómez, had been found dead alongside another man in the area of Ce-rro ávila, near Caracas. The reports said police believes the two men were killed by thieves who robbed them and then simulated a kidnapping to collect ransom money.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz told a press conference on Friday that López was formally charged with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy. The government had until Saturday to press charges or release him.
The action stems from López's public support for the student-led street protests that have rocked the country since they began February 4 in the western city of San Cristóbal and spread to several other major cities.
López and some other opposition leaders support a strategy dubbed “the exit” that is aimed at generating pressure through street protests for Maduro — the hand-picked successor to late socialist icon Hugo Chávez — to resign.
López’s radical stance has led to divisions within the Venezuelan opposition, with former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles opposing the protest movement in the beginning.
Hours after the attorney general’s announcement, about 3,000 demonstrators, most of them students, hit the streets in eastern Caracas demanding that López be freed. Under the slogan “Free Leopoldo,” some were dressed in white, a symbol of peace, while others carried the Venezuelan flag.
‘Selective violence’ coming
With new clashes between protesters and security forces in Caracas, the government of President Nicolás Maduro warned yesterday of a “new phase” of violence as anti-government demonstrations reached the two-month mark.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres said yesterday that “a new phase of selective violence and terror attacks is probably coming” and that it will seek to mobilize citizens in a way that the opposition barricades have failed to do.
A Unasur delegation which will seek to establish dialogue between the government and the opposition will start to work in Caracas tomorrow and will stay in the country for 40 hours.
The foreign ministers of Brazil (Luiz Alberto Figueiredo), Colombia (María ángel Holguín), Ecuador (Ricardo Patiño) and Surinam (Winston Lachin) integrate the special commission.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced on state television yesterday that another “eight chancellors from regional countries” will arrive in Venezuela tomorrow to “support, accompany and advise” the dialogue process.
The Mesa de Unidad Democrática, integrated by 29 opposition parties, said the chancellors visit could be “valuable” and “useful” if the Maduro administration “commits itself to dialogue.”
The coalition insisted in a statement that it is willing to engage in “respectful dialogue, with a pre-accorded agenda and before a third party that guarantees, facilitates, and if necessary, mediates for the negotiations to be fruitful.”
The MUD’s statement seemed to be more in line with the more moderate stance of former presidential candidate Capriles, than with those of Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, who was stripped of her seat in Congress last week.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper El País, Capriles, said that Maduro “is less popular every day but that doesn’t mean that the opposition has been able to build on that discontent.” He said that opposition would not achieve that “with barricades” but “by offering a new project for the country.”
Herald with Telegraph, Télam