July 21, 2014

Wife of imprisoned Venezuelan activist pleads for his release

The wife of political activist Leopoldo López, who has been in a Venezuelan jail since February, takes her case to Washington.

The wife of a Venezuelan opposition leader made a public plea to U.S. and international leaders Monday, saying her husband had been jailed on trumped-up charges by what she called the weak and frightened regime of President Nicolás Maduro.

At the National Press Club, Lilian Tintori talked about the emotional impact on her family while her husband, Leopoldo López, 43, has been in jail in connection with a range of charges linked to anti-government protests.

“It is very difficult for me and my children,” Tintori said. “It is hard being a single parent. It is challenging feeling unsafe in my own country. . . . And it breaks my heart having to explain to my daughter after every visit why her dad can’t come home — and how, in Venezuela, sometimes the heroes are in prison.”

Tintori, who has a background in television, delivered her 15 minutes of remarks in English that was powerful and poised but sometimes halting. She took questions in a mixture of Spanish and English, with her human rights attorney and her family at her side.

Tintori has been pleading her husband’s case in meetings and speeches around the world.

At Monday’s event, she brandished a 75-page report that she said laid out her husband’s ordeal.

López’s trial is scheduled for this week in Caracas. He was arrested in February on charges that originally included conspiracy, incitement to commit crimes, public intimidation, setting fire to a public building, damage to public property, terrorism and premeditated aggravated homicide.

Since February, Venezuelans protesting Maduro’s regime have been met with often-brutal state-sanctioned violence that’s resulted in deaths, detentions and torture, according to political leaders and human rights observers.

The government maintains that the protests are cover for a coup attempt and that violence has come from both sides. Of the 42 protest-related deaths, 10 have been military and other public officials, the government says.

López is the former mayor of Chacao, a part of greater Caracas. He was a rising star in the opposition ranks and seen as a presidential contender when he was banned from politics by late President Hugo Chávez in 2008.

His arrest in February was the beginning of wider crackdown on the opposition, including the jailing of two mayors and stripping María Corina Machado of her National Assembly seat.

U.S. politicians from both parties are pushing for sanctions and urging the Obama administration to intervene more forcefully to help mitigate the violence, but the administration has taken a more cautious approach, saying it doesn’t want to make the situation worse.

The charges stem from a mass street protest that López led on Feb. 12. Although the demonstration was largely peaceful, some protesters lingered afterward, throwing rocks or concrete at riot police and a government building and setting property on fire. At least two people were shot dead. Tintori and her attorney repeatedly said that López had called only for nonviolent protests.

Tintori especially mocked part of the government’s case against López that said he’d reached his followers with “subliminal messages” that called on them to engage in violently overthrowing the government.

“If my husband had such superhero powers, wouldn’t he send subliminal message to the government to release him from prison — or to President Maduro to resign?” Tintori said.

She said her husband “has not wavered, and he is not afraid,” a sharp contrast with a government she said was worried and weak.

“A strong and powerful government has nothing to fear from criticism,’’ she siad. “Only a weak and insecure government locks up people who speak their mind.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jim Wyss contributed to this report from Bogotá.

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