After several canceled attempts, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González finally arrived in Caracas on Sunday to participate in the legal defenses of jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma.
“A lot of dialogue is needed in Venezuela,” the former Socialist leader told reporters as he arrived at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, on a flight from Bogota.
Ever since González announced his intentions to travel to the country, officials in Venezuela have been trying to dissuade him
One of his first stops was the home of López, where he met with family members and lawyers for the now-jailed former mayor of the Caracas suburb of Chacao.
González later told reporters that he thought it was a “good gesture” on President Nicolás Maduro’s part to hold regional and parliamentary elections in the country this year.
Ever since González first announced his intentions to travel to the country, officials in Venezuela have been trying to dissuade him – Maduro, for example, had warned the former Spanish prime minister not to get involved in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
Via his Twitter account, Maduro wrote this weekend: “The Bogota-Madrid-Miami connection is acting with desperation by sending over personalities to legitimize its war against Venezuela. They want to mess with the homeland.”
The Venezuelan leader has long accused the conservative forces in Bogota and Madrid, as well as the right-wing Cuban exile community in Miami, of conspiring to oust him.
In March, González was declared persona non grata by Venezuelan lawmakers, who warned him that he may not be able to enter the country.
The former prime minister had to cancel his trip to Caracas two weeks ago after Maduro decided to postpone López’s trial for sedition and conspiracy.
López and Ceballos, who are both on hunger strike at the prisons where they are being held, were charged in connection to the February 2014 anti-government protests, at which at least 40 people died and many more were injured.
Ceballos was specifically accused of not following government orders to remove protestors’ barricades, which were set up in the streets of San Cristóbal, a city in Venezuela’s southwestern Táchira state, near the Colombian border.
While González held his first meeting with the lawyers representing the opposition leaders at López’s home in the Caracas suburb of Sebucán, Venezuelan state-run television broadcast images of pro-government demonstrations held across the country.
Crawlers on the screen read: “People reject Felipe Gonzalez’s interference,” along with the hastag #VenezuelaSeRespeta (or, Respect Venezuela).
Soon after González’s arrival, the Venezuela Supreme Court issued a statement “categorically rejecting all foreign interference in judicial affairs that are governed only and exclusively by the Venezuelan courts.”
The government has stated that González cannot participate in any of the opposition members’ trials. Lawyers and family members of the political prisoners said that he will act as an advisor but won’t litigate before the court.
Those close to López, who is president of the Voluntad Popular party, have confirmed that González has asked the government for authorization to meet with him.
In the past, the Maduro government has denied similar petitions made by former presidents of Colombia, Chile and Bolivia, who had traveled to Caracas on different occasions to try to see López.