U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez Friday "to address the dire situation in Venezuela," as concern over U.S. interference in Venezuela's internal affairs continues to grow.
Who is Leopoldo Lopez?
In his phone conversation with Lopez, Pence praised “Mr. Lopez for his courage and outspoken defense of Venezuelan democracy," according to the White House press statement.
Earlier this month, Lopez's party Popular Will boycotted the dialogue process called by President Maduro to ease tensions between the government and the opposition.
Lopez also denounced Maduro's call for the National Constituent Assembly, demanding the elections for the 545 representatives be canceled.
In the White House press statement, the vice president also reiterated, "President Trump’s pledge that if the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on Sunday, July 30, the United States will respond with strong and swift economic actions."
Lopez has a long and sordid history in Venezuelan politics, particularly for his involvement in the deadly "guarimba" protests. He gained prominence after becoming the mayor of the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao in Venezuela between 2000 and 2008.
According to investigative journalist Eva Golinger, in 2002 Lopez began frequenting Washington, D.C., to “visit IRI (International Republican Institute) headquarters and meet with officials in the Bush administration.” The IRI is one of the three foundations of the National Endowment for Democracy, NED, and has been pumping tens of millions of dollars to the opposition groups in Venezuela, including Justice First.
In 2014, Lopez was convicted and charged with plotting and promoting the violent street blockades, also known as “guarimbas” in Venezuela. The widespread violence led to the death of 43 people while hundreds more were injured. The violence also cost billions of dollars worth of damage to public buildings and infrastructure.
Lopez was sent to jail in 2015 and given a 13-year nine-month jail sentence for his role in leading the violent protests. He was recently allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest after citing "health concerns."
In a video published by NBC Miami Wednesday, Lopez urged the Venezuelans to continue protesting on the streets, stating that Venezuela is facing a "clear and imminent threat" to its democracy.
The phone call between the opposition leader and the U.S. vice president comes as the United States escalates its threats against Venezuela.
Earlier this week, Washington issued a travel warning telling the U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the South American country and also ordered the relatives of all its diplomats to leave Caracas.