Colombia stance on jailed Venezuelan leader irks Caracas


Venezuela on Tuesday said its relationship with Colombia had taken a “dangerous step backward” after its neighbor came out in favor of the release of Leopolodo López, a jailed Venezuelan politician.

The statement from Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry comes after the former presidents of Colombia and Chile, Andres Pastrana and Sebastian Piñera, were blocked over the weekend from visiting López at the Ramo Verde jail on the outskirts of Caracas where he has been held for almost a year.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the presidents of supporting coup plotters and said they would be “stained with blood” if their visit stirred up violence.

Monday night, Colombia’s Foreign Ministry came out in Pastrana’s defense.

“The ex-president, who made a private visit to Venezuela, is within his rights to decide whom he visits,” the ministry said. “And it’s up to the Venezuelan government to explain the reasons why they did not authorize the visit to Leopoldo López.”

“We hope that Leopoldo López recovers his liberty as soon as possible,” the note added.

López, the head of the Voluntad Popular party, was arrested last February after he led anti-government marches that eventually spiraled out of control leaving more than 40 dead — many at the hands of security forces.

The government is accusing him of trying to topple Maduro and inciting violence and sabotage. The United Nations has called for his release and human rights groups consider him a political prisoner.

In Tuesday’s statement, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said its Colombian counterpart had crossed the line.

“We regret that Colombia’s Foreign Ministry backs positions that are against Venezuela’s democracy and the constitutional government of Nicolás Maduro,” the statement read. “This represents a dangerous step backward for bilateral relations.”

Venezuela and Colombia have had tense but civil relations since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010 and made an effort to mend ties. But Caracas regularly accuses forces within Colombia of trying to destabilize the 21-month-old Maduro administration.