The United Nations has urged Venezuelan authorities to immediately release Leopoldo López (above), the jailed opposition leader and founder of the Voluntad Popular party, who was arrested in February. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described López as the victim of an “arbitrary detention”.
The group rejected the contention of the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office that it is legitimately holding the opposition leader to account for street violence that occurred after he called for protest against the government following the disputed presidential election. The UN states that neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the government “clearly states what phrases in his speech could have motivated those serious incidents or incited their perpetration.”
López has been detained in the Ramo Verde military prison “on grounds of political affiliation and opinions,” the working group asserts, adding that the authorities are acting illegally by keeping López isolated and imposing obstacles to communication with his legal representatives.
Venezuela’s fractured opposition has turned to a surprising new leader: a burly, tough-talking former communist who says his first order of business is to rekindle street protests, Ezequiel Minaya writes for the Wall Street Journal:
Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba’s recent appointment to head a coalition of political parties known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable [Mesa de la Unidad Democrática ] is a sharp break from past leaders more at ease behind desks than in the country’s hard-bitten slums.
On Wednesday, Mr. Torrealba (right) said his group would stage 22 town hall meetings nationwide on Saturday to discuss rampant crime in the wake of an 8-hour-long downtown standoff in Caracas this week that left five people dead, including a paramilitary leader once close to government officials.
After narrowly losing the presidential election to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the opposition coalition is now looking to win a majority in the National Assembly next year in order to put pressure on the president and potentially force a recall referendum in 2016.
Venezuela risks imploding
“The revolutionary process is in danger, it’s falling apart,” warned Gonzalo Gomez Freire, a leader of Marea Socialista, or “Socialist Tide”, a small but vocal group of leftist intellectuals critical of President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Maduro is under intense pressure with an economy in recession, shortages of basic goods and medicines, annual inflation above 60 percent and sky-high crime. Maduro lacks Chavez’s charisma and his approval rating has dropped to around 35 percent.
The opposition’s Torrealba worked as an adviser for both the statistics and education ministries beforehugo Chávez took office in 1999, by which time he had grown disillusioned with far leftist ideology, Minaya adds:
“I broke with communism because of its controls on the individual,” he said. “I left party politics because it wasn’t striving to help people; it was the struggle for power.”
Torrealba launched a radio show called Radar of the Barrios. Mr. Torrealba would help get potholes and streetlamps mended, while giving slum dwellers a forum to vent their frustrations with the government….The radio broadcast morphed into a nonprofit organization and eventually a popular program on the television network, Globovision that was canceled after the station was sold last year to investors with government ties. That paved the way for the opposition coalition to choose Mr. Torrealba for its leadership slot.
Mr. Torrealba said that his strategy will mean “more person-to-person contact, face-to-face, house-to-house.”
“That kind of contact allows for the exchange of information and ideas,” he said. “That kind of activity is what we are going to develop.”
López’s family released Opinion No. 26/2014 of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, finding that he is being held illegally and in violation of international law:
The Working Group is of the opinion that the detention of Mr. Leopoldo López is an arbitrary detention . . . Accordingly, it recommends to the Government of . . . Venezuela that [it] immediately frees [him], and grants comprehensive reparation, including the compensation of his moral and compensatory character, as well as measures of satisfaction, which could be a public statement of apology in his favor.
“I am so incredibly grateful that the United Nations has called for Leopoldo’s release,” said Lilian Tintori, Leopoldo’s wife (left). “Its strong stand in solidarity with my husband and the Venezuelan people sends a clear and unequivocal message to President Maduro,” she added.
The Government of Venezuela vigorously disputed López’s claims, and lost, according to a media release from López’s lawyers:
The Working Group’s detailed deliberations and conclusions are presented in a 10-page written opinion. When the Government of Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights on September 6, 2012, it said it “remains committed to increasing its cooperation with the Human Rights Council.” That cooperation must include the immediate release López.
López is a 43-year-old Venezuelan opposition leader being held in Ramo Verde military prison facing charges of inciting violence, arson, damage to property, and conspiracy. He is the founder and National Coordinator of the political party Voluntad Popular (“Popular Will”) and former mayor of the Chacao District of Caracas. He López has been imprisoned on the basis of four speeches he gave in January February 2014, where he advocated changing the Government of Venezuela through democratic, constitutional, and non-violent means. Nevertheless, the Government claimed in its indictment that he persuaded his supporters to engage in violence through “subliminal messaging.” He is facing 12-years imprisonment. So far in his trial, the judge has approved the Government to introduce more than 100 witnesses, a dozen reports, and numerous videos against him but has rejected 58 of 60 proposed witnesses and all documentary evidence proposed by López.
In recent weeks, OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza, U.S. President Barack Obama, and the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, have all called for López’s immediate release from prison.