Leopoldo López accused of inciting violence at anti-government protestFriday, June 6, 2014
Venezuelan opposition hardliner to stand trial
CARACAS — Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been in jail for almost four months, will face trial charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations, a judge decided yesterday.
A judge’s ruling before dawn yesterday followed marathon deliberations lasting three days in which López’s attorneys argued that the former mayor was being hounded for his political beliefs.
López, 43, is the combative head of the Popular Will party. Before turning himself in to authorities in February, he had been spearheading a movement to force President Nicolás Maduro’s resignation, under the slogan “The Exit.”
Authorities ordered his arrest after three people were killed on February 12, during clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters that took place after peaceful demonstrations ended. At least 42 people have been killed on both sides in the three months of unrest that followed.
If convicted, the Harvard University-educated politician could face up to more than 13 years in jail. The trial is expected to begin in August, his lawyers said.
Supporters yesterday read a letter from López written by hand from the courthouse in which he accused the judge presiding over his case of “selling her conscience to the corrupt powers.”
In a similarly defiant tone, allies called for a mass demonstration Sunday in the same Caracas plaza where López in February emerged from days of hiding to turn himself into authorities after delivering a fiery speech to a huge crowd.
Referring to López as a “prisoner of conscience,” David Smolansky, they mayor of Caracas’ El Hatillo district, said the jailed activist’s “only crime is thinking differently.”
Moreover, in an official government event yesterday, Miranda state governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles harshly criticized judge Adriana López’s ruling, saying that the decision had “already been made in advance by the government” and that yesterday’s events show that justice in Venezuela is “rotten.”
Referring to the failed crisis talks between the government and the Democratic Unity coalition (MUD), he said that dialogue never took place but rather “a debate that was broadcasted on national radio and television.”
The Democratic Unity alliance, which in May froze talks with the government to ease tensions, has conditioned its return to the negotiating table on López’s release, among other conditions.
Each day of the preliminary hearing began for López around 4am, when he was woken in his cell at a military prison outside Caracas and taken under heavy police escort to a downtown courtroom, where proceedings lasted late into the night.
Even as the government has been pressing its cases against López, it has launched what appears to be a new legal battle against other opponents, including ousted lawmaker María Corina Machado.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said Machado and two other opposition politicians had been summoned to testify in an investigation of an alleged US-backed plot to assassinate Maduro. Her attorney, José Amalio Graterol, said she was summoned as a witness. It wan’t clear from the attorney general’s remarks if she herself was under investigation.
Yesterday, officials announced they were also summoning former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Salas Romer and two others to testify in the case.
The government last week released what it said were recent e-mails by Machado in which she discusses the need to “annihilate” Maduro and boasts of having the support of a senior State Department official who is now the US ambassador to Colombia.
Machado, who was stripped of her seat in Congress after attempting to denounce Maduro at the Organization of American States, has denied the charges and said the government is fabricating evidence in a bid to intimidate her.
In reaction to the Venezuelan judge’s decision, the US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stressed the importance of carrying out a dialogue and said that López’s trial “will not help” the process in a press conference yesterday.
“We believe that dialogue is the best way to move forward, not making politically-motivated arrests and criminalizing dissent,” she added.
— Herald with AP, online media