Lopez re­lease raises hopes for talks in Venezuela

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CARA­CAS: Venezuela hit its 100th day of anti-gov­ern­ment protests Sun­day, amid un­cer­tainty over whether the re­lease from prison a day ear­lier of promi­nent po­lit­i­cal pris­oner Leopoldo Lopez might open the way to ne­go­ti­a­tions to defuse the pro­found cri­sis grip­ping the coun­try. Lopez was placed un­der house ar­rest im­me­di­ately af­ter his sur­prise re­lease from a mil­i­tary prison. Still, the ges­ture-the most vis­i­ble sign of con­cil­i­a­tion since protests erupted April 1 — trig­gered spec­u­la­tion over the prospect of talks be­tween the op­po­si­tion and the em­bat­tled left­ist gov­ern­ment of Ni­co­las Maduro.

Three months of de­struc­tive street protests have left at least 91 dead. On Sun­day demon­stra­tions con­tin­ued as 2,000 peo­ple marched in eastern Cara­cas, wear­ing T-shirts with Lopez’s face and car­ry­ing ban­ners that read: “One hun­dred days and I con­tinue to rebel against tyranny.” Mean­while, thou­sands of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers marched in the city cen­ter. Maduro on Face­book voiced sup­port for his con­tro­ver­sial plans to form an as­sem­bly tasked with rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, which he said had “the hope to build a solid peace among all.”

Vot­ing for mem­bers of the as­sem­bly which the op­po­si­tion has re­jected as Maduro’s bid to main­tain power-is sched­uled for July 30. Lopez’ s re­lease was wel­comed some­times with call son Cara­cas to do more by sev­eral other Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, Spain and the United States. Lopez, leader of the Vol­un­tad Pop­u­lar (Pop­u­lar Will) party and a lead­ing sym­bol of anti-Maduro re­sis­tance, emerged af­ter his re­lease from prison look­ing fit and happy-though wear­ing an an­kle bracelet to al­low au­thor­i­ties to mon­i­tor his move­ments, his fam­ily said.

“I main­tain my firm op­po­si­tion to this regime,” Lopez said in a state­ment read by a leader of his party. “I re­it­er­ate my com­mit­ment to fight­ing un­til Venezuela’s free­dom is won.” Pres­i­dent Maduro, in tele­vised re­marks Satur­day, called for a mes­sage of “peace and rec­ti­fi­ca­tion” from Lopez.

Op­po­si­tion cred­its protests

Lopez’s wife, Lil­ian Tin­tori, un­der­scored that no deal was ne­go­ti­ated for her hus­band’s re­lease. “You don’t cut a deal on free­dom, on hu­man rights, on dig­nity. Never,” Tin­tori said. “It was a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion by the Ni­co­las Maduro gov­ern­ment.” She said Lopez suf­fered cruel treat­ment and se­ri­ous stom­ach trou­bles, hav­ing shed six ki­los. An­a­lysts said it seemed sig­nif­i­cant the gov­ern­ment had agreed to re­lease a man it once termed “a mon­ster,” while Lopez had ac­cepted house ar­rest af­ter in­sist­ing he would leave prison only with full free­dom and once all op­po­si­tion mem­bers were free.

One an­a­lyst, Luis Vi­cente Leon, said the gov­ern­ment hoped to lower ten­sions in the face of a se­ri­ous risk of desta­bi­liza­tion, while the mod­er­ate op­po­si­tion wanted to avoid “sui­cide in a lose-lose sit­u­a­tion.” While ne­go­ti­a­tions now ap­pear pos­si­ble, he added, they would re­quire con­ces­sions sure to be un­pop­u­lar with ex­trem­ists on ei­ther side. “No one vol­un­tar­ily of­fers to sac­ri­fice their head,” he said.

Re­lease called ‘hu­man­i­tar­ian’

Lopez-a 46-year-old Har­vard-ed­u­cated politi­cian and for­mer mayor of a Cara­cas mu­nic­i­pal­ity-was im­pris­oned for more than three-and-a-half years for al­legedly in­cit­ing vi­o­lence by call­ing for anti-gov­ern­ment protests. His re­lease has been a key de­mand of Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, amid an in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tion aimed at forc­ing the un­pop­u­lar Maduro to hold early elec­tions. The Supreme Court said it had or­dered Lopez’s move to house ar­rest for health rea­sons, call­ing it a “hu­man­i­tar­ian mea­sure.”

In Madrid, Javier Cre­mades, Lopez’s Span­ish lawyer, un­der­scored that “all of Leopoldo Lopez’s civil and po­lit­i­cal rights must still be re­stored” and all po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers must be freed. Foro Pe­nal, an NGO, puts the num­ber of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers at 433. The gov­ern­ment in­sists they are in jail for acts of vi­o­lence. The US State De­part­ment called Lopez’s re­lease “a sig­nif­i­cant step in the right di­rec­tion,” but said more such steps are needed as the cri­sis deep­ens.

On Wed­nes­day, pro-gov­ern­ment mil­i­tants wield­ing sticks and pipes stormed the op­po­si­tion-held Na­tional As­sem­bly and beat law­mak­ers, in­jur­ing at least five. Maduro con­demned the vi­o­lence and said he had or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In T-shirts em­bla­zoned with Lopez’s face, marcher Maria Es­ther Pinto, 46, called his re­lease “a step for­ward for his fam­ily and all of us who are seek­ing (po­lit­i­cal) change.” “His re­lease will help keep us in the street de­mand­ing free­dom for all the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers,” she said, march­ing along­side her daugh­ters.

CARA­CAS: Op­po­si­tion ac­tivists clash with the po­lice dur­ing a demon­stra­tion mark­ing 100 days of protests against Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro in Cara­cas.—AFP

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