Latin America

Brazilian senators to fly to Venezuela to demand release of jailed leaders

Maduro government gives high-level opposition delegation permission to land in Caracas

Brazilian senators Aécio Neves and Aloysio Nunes speak to reporters on Tuesday.
Brazilian senators Aécio Neves and Aloysio Nunes speak to reporters on Tuesday.PSDB (George Gianni)

A high-level delegation of opposition senators from Brazil has announced it will travel to Venezuela on Thursday to try to convince President Nicolás Maduro to free a group of anti-government leaders who are being held on sedition charges.

Brazilian lawmakers said they would try to meet with Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López, who has been on a hunger strike for 24 days while being held at the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas.

Among those traveling to Venezuela is former presidential candidate Aécio Neves 

The jailed leader of the Voluntad Popular party is demanding that Maduro set a date for this year’s parliamentary elections. López is being held on charges related to the violent anti-government riots that took place in February 2014.

Jaques Wagner, the Brazilian defense minister, told reporters on Tuesday that the Venezuelan government had given authorization for the military plane that will carry the senators to land in Caracas.

Among those traveling to Venezuela is former presidential candidate Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), who lost last year’s race to President Dilma Rousseff.

It remains unclear whether the senators will be allowed to see López. Up until now, the Maduro government has prohibited all international dignitaries, including several former Latin American presidents, from entering Ramo Verde prison.

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Last week, former Spanish prime minister Felipe González, who has said he will help defend López and another jailed opposition leader, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, was refused authorization to enter the penitentiary.

During his less-than-48-hour stay in Caracas, González was able to meet Ledezma, who is under house arrest on charges of trying to plot a coup, along with other members of the opposition, including the families of the jailed dissidents.

But after government officials refused his petition to see López, González departed Venezuela on a Colombian air force plane sent by President Juan Manuel Santos.

Brazilian Senate leader Renan Calheiros said he was “relieved” after Wagner informed him that the Maduro government would grant permission for a military plane to land in Venezuela.

“I was worried,” Calheiros said. “Had it occurred to them that if the senators went on a private plane, that plane might be shot down?” he asked during an interview with the daily Folha de São Paulo.

For his part, Neves said he had been in contact with another opposition leader, María Corina Machado, and that the delegation would take part in “a peaceful march” calling for the release of all political prisoners and for the Maduro government to set a date for the parliamentary race.

Since the Brazilian government has avoided this issue, we are going to join forces with other democratic governments” Aécio Neves

The Venezuelan leader has said the election will take place this year, but has not given a precise timeframe.

“We are going to carry out a humanitarian mission to reinforce international pressure for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners,” Neves said. “Since the Brazilian government has absolutely avoided this issue, we are going to join forces with other democratic governments.”

Like many other Latin American leaders, Rousseff has refrained from openly criticizing the Venezuelan government. In April, she told CNN that she wanted to see the opposition leaders freed but also underscored the need not to interfere in “Venezuela’s internal matters.”

Last month, the Brazilian leader declined to meet with the wives of López and Ledezma – Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Capriles – and instead handed them a letter praising their efforts and promising that she would “work tirelessly to find a solution to the Venezuelan political crisis but under absolute respect for democracy.”

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