Venezuela crisis: US alarm as opposition leaders jailed

5 months ago
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Venezuela crisis: US alarm as opposition leaders jailed
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Media captionVideos of the arrests were shared on social media

The US has described the re-arrest of two Venezuelan opposition leaders as "very alarming".

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who had been under house arrest, were taken to a military prison on Tuesday night.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was "evaluating all of our policy options", including putting pressure on President Nicolás Maduro to step down.

The remarks come two days after a controversial vote for a constitutional assembly saw deadly violence.

At least 10 people were killed on Sunday, as the opposition boycotted the election.

President Maduro said the poll was a "vote for the revolution", arguing that the move would create peace and foster dialogue by bringing together different sectors of Venezuela's polarised society.

But the opposition accused the president of trying to rewrite the constitution in order to maximise his power and sideline the opposition-controlled legislature.

In other developments on Tuesday:

  • UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said an escalation of political tensions would make it difficult to find a peaceful solution to the crisis
  • Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the army "reiterates its unconditional support to the president"
  • The UK became the latest country to change its travel advice to Venezuela, saying that all but essential travel to the country should cease and that all dependents of British embassy staff in Venezuela had been withdrawn as of 1 August

'Unconditional release'

"The situation from a humanitarian standpoint is already becoming dire," Mr Tillerson said.

"We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions, where either Maduro decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Nicolás Maduro is now subject to a US asset freeze

Meanwhile, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Vice-President Mike Pence had a "recent conversation" with Mr López on the phone.

"United States stands with the Venezuelan people and we call for the full and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the national assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela," she quoted Mr Pence as saying.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Monday that the US had imposed sanctions on President Maduro.

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Media captionAntonietta Ledezma: "My father knew the risks"

Mr López was taken from his home at 12:27 local time (04:27GMT) on Tuesday, his wife, Lilian Tintori, wrote on Twitter.

A video posted showed him being taken away by members of the Venezuelan intelligence service, Sebin.

Lilian Tintori wrote that she would hold President Maduro responsible if something were to happen to her husband.

The daughter of Mr Ledezma, Vanessa Ledezma, also posted a video of her father, wearing pyjamas, being taken away by the Sebin.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Ledezma's wife, Mitzy Capriles, said her husband's detention was an attempt to "break" them

A woman can be heard shouting "They're taking Ledezma, they're taking Ledezma, dictatorship!"

The two opposition leaders were taken to Ramo Verde military prison.

The Supreme Court, which critics say is dominated by government loyalists, said it had received intelligence reports alleging the two were trying to flee.

The court also said that it had revoked Mr Ledezma's and Mr López's house arrest because they had made political statements.

Both Mr Ledezma and Mr López were key figures in the wave of protests which swept through Venezuela in 2014 in which 43 people from both sides of the political divide were killed.

They have played a less prominent role in the most recent protests because they have been under house arrest but their video messages still get reported and shared widely on opposition websites.

Leopoldo López

Image copyright Reuters
  • 46-year-old leader and founder of the Venezuelan opposition People's Will (Voluntad Popular) party
  • Sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail in September 2015 for incitement to violence
  • Has always denied any wrongdoing, his wife heads an international campaign for his release
  • Released from military prison and put under house arrest on 8 July 2017 for "health reasons"
  • Published a video on YouTube on 25 July urging Venezuelans to protest against the constituent assembly and the military

Antonio Ledezma

Image copyright EPA
  • 62-year-old mayor of Caracas
  • Arrested February 2015 on charges of supporting an attempted coup, which he denies
  • Put under house arrest in April 2015
  • Long-standing opponent of President Hugo Chávez and his successor President Nicolás Maduro
  • Published a video on YouTube on 31 July calling the election for a constituent assembly a "fraud"
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