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Latin America

Family of Leopoldo López demand to see jailed Venezuelan opposition leader

The family is staging a vigil outside the jail where he is being held, accusing the government of violating his human rights after their visiting rights have been denied for a month.
4 May 2017 – 02:39 PM EDT
Lilian Tintori, wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López, and his mother, Maria Antonieta Lopez, outside the Ramo Verde jail where he is being held. The family have not been allowed to speak to him since April 6. Crédito: Maye Primera/Univision

The wife and mother of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López are demanding they be allowed to visit him at the jail where he is being held incommunicado.

His wife, Lilian Tintori, and his mother, Maria Antonieta López, spent most of Wednesday night outside the Ramo Verde jail near Caracas after unsubstantiated rumors that López was dead or gravely ill and had been taken to a military hospital. They were still there at dawn.

Late Wednesday López appeared looking healthy in a government video apparently recorded in his jail cell.

But the family rejected that as evidence that he was alive and began a vigil outside the prison.

"The dictatorship's video is FALSE. The only proof of life that we will accept is to see Leopoldo," Tintori tweeted early on Thursday, posting a photo of herself and López's mother facing a line of uniformed National Guard soldiers.

López's family have not been allowed to communicate with him in more than a month. Tintori and her family, including the couple's two children, have held vigils outside the jail seeking permission to visit, including on his 46th birthday last week.

The denial of López's visitation rights coincides with a month of anti-government protests that have left at least 35 people dead.

A U.S.-educated economist and leader of the Popular Will party, López was jailed for allegedly inciting street violence in 2014, and sentenced to almost 14 years behind bars.

The government considers him a terrorist and denies he is being mistreated. "We haven't done anything to the monster of Ramo Verde," said Diosdado Cabello, a ruling Socialist Party leader, who called Wednesday night's false alarm "a big, pretty show."

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says he was "arbitrarily arrested" and denied a fair trial.

"His detention has been a nightmare for him and his family. At Human Rights Watch, we have used our global reach to advocate publicly and at the highest levels against Leopoldo’s baseless, political prosecution," said José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division, in a recent speech in Miami.

"The situation in Venezuela is only getting worse. The concentration of power is enormous and without any institution left to act as a check on the executive power, Nicolás Maduro has used that power to intimidate, censor, and imprison its critics – critics like Leopoldo López," he added.

The rumors of López's condition were fueled Wednesday evening when Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that he had confirmed that López, 46, had been taken to the hospital in "very serious condition."

Tintori also tweeted late Wednesday that she was on her way to the military hospital in Caracas to ask to see her husband.

On Wednesday night, Tintori was filmed by journalists demanding to see López at the hospital gates. She tweeted: "We want to know the truth. Enough with so much pain! We want to see Leopoldo!"

Tintori was informed by officials that López was not admitted to the hospital and they headed to the Ramo Verde jail on the outskirts of Caracas where he is being held.

In the video message, López appeared calm and gave a "proof of life" message for his family, saying: "I don't know the reason why I am being asked to give this proof of life," he said, noting that he was speaking at 9 p.m. on May 3.

The video was shown by a top ruling party official, Diosdado Cabello, on a state TV program.

Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, represents a growing Venezuelan exile community in South Florida. In February he helped arrange a White House meeting for Tintori with President Donald Trump.

The president tweeted a photograph of himself with Rubio and Tintori, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, urging his immediate release.