Latin America

Venezuela rules out ex-PM González from joining opposition’s defense

Spanish ambassador will be sent back to Caracas following diplomatic embroilment Venezuelan leader tones down remarks against Spain and offers olive branch to Rajoy

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo.ULY MARTIN

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Sunday said that former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonázlez cannot legally join the defense team of a jailed opposition leader, because the country’s penal code doesn’t permit it.

“It is impossible for people to come from abroad to serve as technical consultants for the defense team of someone who has been arrested,” said Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz during a local television program. “It is impossible because it goes against judicial procedures.”

Maduro has asked to shake Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s hand at the next EU-Latin America Summit

Relations between Spain and Venezuela soured when the former Socialist prime minister announced in March that he would work with the defense of jailed opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, citing his concerns about Venezuela’s deteriorating human rights situation.

Diplomatic tensions grew worse when another former prime minister, José María Aznar, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), helped draw up a petition calling on Venezuela to cease its crackdowns on the opposition.

Last Tuesday, Venezuelan lawmakers declared González persona non grata.

González is scheduled to travel to Venezuela next month to help defend López, who is on trial on sedition and conspiracy charges stemming from the violent anti-government protests held across Venezuela in February 2014, in which more than 40 people died.

In Ledezma’s case, the Caracas mayor was arrested last February after he signed a petition calling for Maduro’s resignation and new elections.

After the tense political situation between Madrid and Caracas came to a head last week, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo announced that he was recalling Spain’s ambassador to Venezuela.

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Ambassador Antonio Pérez Hernández was summoned to Madrid in protest of the “verbal escalation, slanders and threats” made by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

“The normal thing is for the ambassador to be in Caracas. When the circumstances are normal, you act normally and so, in all probability, the ambassador will return in the next few hours,” the foreign minister told reporters during an official visit to India.

Things calmed down on Saturday when Maduro asked to shake Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s hand at the next EU-Latin America Summit to prevent “the spears” from being brandished. The Venezuelan leader had previously called Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy “a criminal” and accused him of supporting terrorism and trying to overthrow his government.

Before his visit to India, García-Margallo told EL PAÍS that “Venezuela was shooting itself in its own foot” if former Prime Minister González was stopped from entering the country.

Concerning threats made by Maduro over the possible expropriation of Spanish companies in Venezuela, the foreign minister said that he would hope that the Caracas government would not make any such moves on private businesses.

“I trust that Venezuela will respect international law because it is not logical that private businesses are expropriated over a few political differences. Spanish companies are doing a magnificent job over there and any expropriation would hurt the Venezuelan people.”

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