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Latin America

Ex-PM González sticking to plan to defend opposition leaders in Venezuela

But ex-PM admits authorities may keep him from entering the South American country

Former Prime Minister Felipe González in March 2015.
Former Prime Minister Felipe González in March 2015.ULY MARTÍN

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González confirmed on Tuesday that he will go ahead with his plans to travel to Caracas to join the defense teams of two jailed government opposition leaders, although he admitted that he could be stopped from entering the country by Venezuelan authorities.

In an interview with the Antena 3 television network, González said he is scheduled to be in Venezuela between May 17 and 20.

We didn’t decide to jump into the swimming pool without first checking the water”

“But it is not impossible that they could stop me from defending them,” he said.

The former Socialist leader explained that local government authorities could keep him from entering Venezuela, prohibit him from meeting with opposition leader Leopoldo López in jail or even stop him from assisting during his ongoing closed-door trial.

On Sunday, Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Venezuelan criminal court procedures prevent González or any other foreigner from working with the legal team of any defendant who is on trial.

But González said there is international legislation – including clauses in Venezuelan laws and the country’s Constitution – that give him the right to work for López and another opposition leader, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

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“We didn’t decide to jump into a swimming pool without first checking the water. We have studied judicial proceedings,” the former prime minister said.

López, who was arrested in February 2014, is currently on trial on charges in connection with last year’s nationwide anti-government protests, which left more than 40 dead.

Ledezma, who was detained last February for signing an anti-government petition, is recovering in a military hospital from emergency surgery he underwent over the weekend for a hernia.

The former prime minister said that he won’t receive any legal fees for his work “because I don’t charge to defend political prisoners.” His objective, he said, is to defend their freedom of expression – even though he might not side with some of their ideas – as a “democratic principle.”

González also said that he didn’t want to start “a war” with the government of President Nicolás Maduro, which was “legally voted into office” but is now failing to perform its “legitimate duties.”

Maduro doesn’t understand why the opposition is opposing his policies, and why he cannot criminalize them”

“Maduro doesn’t understand why the opposition is opposing his policies, why the situation is getting very bad in Venezuela, and why he cannot criminalize them,” González said.

Last week, the Venezuelan National Assembly, which is backed by Maduro’s party and its allies, voted to declare González persona non grata.

The former Socialist leader also announced the US Congress has agreed to give López and Ledezma human rights awards on May 14. In case both cannot attend, their wives will be present in Washington that day for the ceremony.

González has also been asked to speak on the floor of Congress, which, he said, would be “fantastic” for the “collective imagination of the empire” – using a term Venezuela uses to describe the United States.

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