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Published On: Wed, Aug 9th, 2017

Venezuela returns MUD leaders Lopez and Ledezma to house arrest

nsnbc : Venezuelan authorities returned Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma back to house arrest. Both were arrested and imprisoned during late-night raids conducted by police and intelligence personnel, claiming the two had violated they had violated their house arrest conditions by making political statements. Authorities also claimed they acted with urgency because they had received intelligence that the pair “had a plan to flee”. Lopez and Ledezma vehemently denied the allegations.

Lilian Tintori and Leopoldo Lopez in their home. (archives)

Lilian Tintori and Leopoldo Lopez in their home. (archives)

Lilian Tintori, the wife of Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition leader Leopoldo Lopes confirmed in a Tweet that her husband had returned home to house arrest Saturday night. Tintori wrote “They just transported Leopoldo home. We continue with more conviction and firmness to achieve Peace [sic] and liberty in Venezuela!)”.

Lopez as well as Antonio Ledezma had their house arrest revoked during a late night raid the night between Tuesday and Wednesday. Ledezma was returned back to house arrest on Friday. The arrest were made after Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice said the fifth and sixth tribunals of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas had verified Lopez and Ledezma’s failure to comply with the conditions of the house arrest.

The arrests prompted outrage at Venezuelan authorities and the PSUV government, in Venezuela, as well as abroad. The re-arrest of Lopez and Ledezma within the context of the highly controversial vote for the establishment of a Constitutional Assembly tasked with rewriting the 1999 constitution adopted under the late Hugo Chavez also sparked international media attention that turned the re-arrests into an additional embarrassment for the socialist PSUV regime and Venezuela’s human rights record.

Antonio Ledezma (archives)

Antonio Ledezma (archives)

The raids were carried out late at night between Tuesday and Wednesday, just before the Constituent Assembly, elected in a disputed election on Sunday, began superseding the National Assembly where the MUD holds an absolute majority. The Supreme Court, earlier this year, suspended the National Assembly for allegedly being in contempt and usurped its legislative powers. Attorney General Luisa Ortega subsequently raised charges against Supreme Court justices for crimes against the republic. The justices found themselves “not guilty” and limited the powers of the office of the prosecutor by insisting that charges could only be filed with the approval from a sitting judge.

In a statement on the arrest of the two MUD leaders that socialist party (PSUV) dominated Supreme Court said Leopoldo Lopez and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma were sent back to prison because they had violated the terms of their house arrest by making political statements. The Court also claimed that authorities acted with urgency because they had received intelligence that the pair “had a plan to flee”. Lopez and Ledezma vehemently denied the allegations.

In a video he pre-recorded in case he was sent back to jail, Lopez urged his supporters to keep fighting Maduro’s government. “If you’re seeing this video, it’s because they illegally and unjustly came and returned me to prison. I’m a political prisoner,” he said. “We must not give up the fight. We must never surrender. We must not tire of demanding a better Venezuela.”

Lopez, the Harvard-educated founder of the Popular Will party, also announced that his wife, Lilian Tintori, was pregnant, calling it “the best news” since he was arrested in 2014, and “one more reason to fight for Venezuela”. The PSUV administration, for its part, rarely reflects upon the political demands of Lopez and largely limits criticism to denouncing him as “a US asset and traitor”.

Lopez and Ledezma are two of Venezuela’s most high-profile opposition leaders. Both had called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote for an all-powerful “constituent assembly” tasked with rewriting the constitution that was adopted in 1999 under the late Hugo Chavez.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded by warning Maduro’s “dictatorship” that he holds him personally responsible for the health and safety of the two men. “Mr Lopez and Mr Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime,” Trump said. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Maduro’s administration to “lower tensions” and “find avenues for political dialogue”, an appeal echoed by European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini’s spokesperson. Spain, traditionally more radical in its Venezuela policy than most other EU members said it would push for EU sanctions.

SEBIN_VENEZUELA_INTELLIGENCEFollowing the late night arrests by SEBIN, Lilian Tintori used her Twitter account to say “They just took Leopoldo away. We do not know where he is or where they are taking him”. She released home security camera footage in which four uniformed police officers and three others in civilian clothes are seen putting her husband into a car and taking off, with other cars escorting them. Ledezma’s family also released a cell phone video in which the mayor is seen being hauled from home in a pair of blue pyjamas as his neighbors scream.

The 46-year-old Leopoldo Lopez was transferred to house arrest in July 2017 after serving three years and five months in prison as part of a 14-year term. He had been convicted of instigating violence during protests against Maduro in 2014 that left 43 people dead.

Ledezma, 62, was arrested in February 2015 on charges of conspiracy and racketeering and was placed under house arrest three months later for health reasons. MUD – since the suspension of parliament “opposition” –  lawmaker Freddy Guevara said the re-arrests were aimed at “frightening us and demoralizing us”.

The new Constituent Assembly is to start working on Wednesday. It is made up only of members of Maduro’s Socialist party, including his own wife. The opposition, including the MUD coalition and members of the Workers’ Confederation called for protests against the inauguration. Former Maduro and PSUV supporter, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, earlier denounced the Constituent Assembly as non-representative and corporatist.

Venezuelan officials claim that 41.5 percent voted in the elections on Sunday while the opposition claims the turnout was closer to 12 percent, on par with the population of State employees who were under pressure to vote. According to polling firm Datanalisis, more than 70% of Venezuelans oppose the new assembly. Independent journalists, on Sunday, reported that many polling stations were virtually empty, suggesting that a very large number of people, depending on geographic and demographic distribution, boycotted the elections.

CH/L – nsnbc 09.08.2017

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