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  • A Venezuelan opposition protester wearing a U.S. flag.

    A Venezuelan opposition protester wearing a U.S. flag. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 February 2017

The U.S. Department of State released a statement calling on Venezuela to free "political prisoners" amidst opposition protests.

The U.S. Department of State released a statement on Saturday calling on Venezuela to release over 100 opposition criminals, including 2014 protest leader Leopoldo Lopez.

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“The United States reiterates its dismay and concern about these arrests, and other actions taken by the Venezuelan government to criminalize dissent and deny its citizens the benefits of democracy,” spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement. 

“We call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, respect for the rule of law, the freedom of the press, the separation of constitutional powers within the government, and the restoration of a democratic process that reflects the will of the Venezuelan people.”

The statement’s release was timed alongside opposition protests in Caracas held on the third anniversary of Lopez’s arrest. Small opposition protests were also held in Miami, London, and Montreal. 

 

The U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition are also calling for the release of current Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos. 

Ledezma, who is currently under house arrest, was found guilty in 2015 of conspiring alongside the U.S. to overthrow the socialist government. 

Ceballos was found guilty in 2014 of supporting the violent “guarimberos,” and calling for violence against the Bolivarian Revolution. 

“Guarimberos” were masked protesters who began barricading roads, burning tires, and attacking police in Lopez’s 2014 “La Salida” campaign. 

On Thursday, Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice upheld the 14-year jail sentence of Lopez for inciting violence during the campaign. 

“La Salida” resulted in 43 deaths and hundreds of injuries — the vast majority of those killed and injured are reported to have been government police and Maduro supporters.

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The court’s decision was released a day after U.S. President Donald Trump met with Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori at the White House. The right-wing Venezuelan "human rights activist" and the newly-inaugurated president allegedly discussed ways to ramp up pressure and sanctions on the South American country.

A 2014 WikiLeaks cable revealed that the U.S. financed Lopez and the Venezuelan opposition for over 12 years, before the unsuccessful 2002 coup attempt against late President Hugo Chavez.


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