Wife of imprisoned Venezuelan activist pleads for his release

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 21, 2014 

— The wife of a Venezuelan opposition leader made a public plea to U.S. and international leaders Monday, saying her husband had been jailed on trumped-up charges by what she called the weak and frightened regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

At the National Press Club, Lilian Tintori talked about the emotional impact on her family while her husband, Leopoldo Lopez, has been in jail in connection with a range of charges linked to protests against the South American country’s leaders.

“It is very difficult for me and my children,” Tintori said. “It is hard being a single parent. It is challenging feeling unsafe in my own country. . . . And it breaks my heart having to explain to my daughter after every visit why her dad can’t come home – and how, in Venezuela, sometimes the heroes are in prison.”

Tintori has a background in television – although in Spanish. She delivered her 15 minutes of remarks in English that was powerful and poised but sometimes halting. She took questions in a mixture of Spanish and English, with her human rights attorney and her family at her side.

Tintori has been pleading her husband’s case in meetings and speeches around the world. At Monday’s event, she brandished a 75-page report that laid out the ordeal her husband has endured – and how absurd the government’s case against him was, she said.

Lopez’s trial is scheduled for this week in Caracas.

He was arrested in February on charges that originally included conspiracy, incitement to commit crimes, public intimidation, setting fire to a public building, damage to public property, terrorism and premeditated aggravated homicide, the report said.

Since February, Venezuelans protesting Maduro’s regime have been met with often-brutal state-sanctioned violence that’s resulted in deaths, detentions and torture, according to political leaders and human rights observers. U.S. politicians from both parties have urged the Obama administration to intervene more forcefully to help mitigate the violence, but the administration has taken a more cautious approach, saying it doesn’t want to make the situation worse.

Lopez is a former mayor of Chacao, a neighborhood of Caracas. In his speeches at protests this year, he called for nonviolent, democratic change in Venezuela, in accordance with its constitution. Tintori and her attorney repeatedly said that Lopez had called only for nonviolent protests.

Media reports at the time and human rights groups said that one key rally was largely peaceful, although some protesters lingered afterward, throwing rocks or concrete at riot police and a government building and setting property on fire.

Tintori especially mocked part of the government’s case against Lopez that said he’d reached his followers with “subliminal messages” that called on them to engage in violently overthrowing the government.

“If my husband had such superhero powers, wouldn’t he send subliminal message to the government to release him from prison – or to President Maduro to resign?” Tintori said.

She said her husband “has not wavered, and he is not afraid,” a sharp contrast with a government she said was worried and weak.

“A strong and powerful government has nothing to fear from criticism. Only a weak and insecure government locks up people who speak their mind,” she said.

Email: cadams@mcclatchydc.com. Twitter: @CAdamsMcClatchy

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