Venezuelan opposition divided over jailed leader’s call for public protests

Leopoldo López goes on hunger strike at the military prison where he is being held

Lilian Tintori (c), wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, during a news conference.
Lilian Tintori (c), wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, during a news conference.REUTERS

Venezuela’s opposition coalition is divided over the call by one of its leaders for public demonstrations this weekend to protest President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

Leopoldo López is on a hunger strike at a military prison outside Caracas, where he has been held since February 2014 on conspiracy and sedition charges related to prior anti-government protests that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 40 people.

López’s call to hold anti-government demonstrations was a unilateral decision, says opposition panel

The leader of the Voluntad Popular party faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has insisted that Venezuela release López, but the Maduro government has ignored all international petitions. Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González has said he will help defend López at his trial.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition said it would not back López’s call to hold demonstrations this coming Saturday, because it was a unilateral decision made by the now-prisoner of the Maduro government.

López, 44, issued the call in a secret video taken inside his prison cell and released this past weekend to the public.

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Since its founding, MUD has been divided over many issues, including how to achieve a peaceful political transition in Venezuela.

Nevertheless, public opinion polls show MUD candidates winning a majority of races in local, regional and parliamentary elections to be held later this year.

MUD “respects, values and shares” the reasons why López has called for public protests but has decided not to support them because the decision was not discussed by the coalition’s full committee, the opposition panel said in a statement.

Last Saturday, government officials raided López’s prison cell and confiscated the video he made on a cellphone. The Maduro administration decided to release the recording on state-run television to demonstrate López’s insistence on “a coup.”

Besides López, government officials are also holding opposition Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, who are charged with supporting an alleged coup plot.

After lunching with his family, López on Sunday declared he was going on a hunger strike

MUD officials have said they do not want a repeat of the February 2014 violent protests that also left many injured and caused widespread property damage. Instead, they said, they want to concentrate on grabbing power through the ballot box.

“To dedicate the little time and space we have to attacking each other internally only favors the government, which, for me, is really the only enemy of all Venezuelans,” said Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential race to Maduro in 2003.

After lunching with his family, López on Sunday declared that he was going on a hunger strike, like his fellow jailed inmate Ceballos, who has spent the last 113 hours without eating.

According to Ceballos’s wife, Patricia, the former San Cristóbal mayor was moved to a prison in Caracas that appears to be “a concentration camp” because of its conditions. Ceballos sleeps on a mattress on the floor without bedsheets and has been prohibited from receiving visitors for the next 30 days, she said.

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