A delegation of eight Brazilian senators who flew to Venezuela to meet jailed opposition leaders on Thursday said they were attacked by protesters banging against their bus and throwing stones, forcing them to return to the airport without making it to Caracas, normally an hour’s drive away.
The group, led by Brazilian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Aecio Neves, had planned to drive from the coastal airport to Caracas in a bus to be followed by a visit to a military jail where opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is being held.
Lopez, 44, a former Caracas district mayor from the opposition Popular Will Party (VP) is currently on a hunger strike. He was arrested after protests broke out in Venezuela in early 2014 during which 43 people died and hundreds were wounded.
The senators were first stuck in traffic congestion due to road maintenance and a demonstration by supporters of the Venezuela’s socialist government, following which their bus was attacked by the protesters.
“Our bus was under siege; they were beating and trying to break it. I filmed them throwing stones against the bus,” tweeted one of the senators, Ronaldo Caiado.
Filmei o apedrejamento que fizeram contra nosso ônibus, mas o sinal de internet é ruim.
— Ronaldo Caiado (@SenadorCaiado) June 18, 2015
Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, who met the Brazilian senators at the airport, said the Venezuelan government deliberately created obstacles to transportation.
“The Brazilian senators now know what it’s like to live in the dictatorship of today in Venezuela,” she said.
En menos d 3 hrs los Senadores brasileros ya saben lo que significa vivir en dictadura hoy en Venezuela pic.twitter.com/hqzamYEwQp
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) June 18, 2015
Another Brazilian senator, Aloysio Nunes, tweeted that the tunnel to the prison where Leopoldo Lopez is being held was being closed because of “cleaning.”
O túnel que dá acesso ao presídio está fechado. Motivo? Está sendo lavado. Isso impediu, de novo, nossa viagem. Voltamos ao aeroporto.
— Aloysio Nunes (@Aloysio_Nunes) June 18, 2015
Neves said the bus came “under siege” from protesters. “We are here to defend democracy and until now, the Venezuelan government has shown little appreciation of it,” he wrote on Twitter.
Estamos aqui para defender a democracia e até agora o governo venezuelano tem demonstrado pouco apreço por ela.
— Aécio Neves (@AecioNeves) June 18, 2015
Before heading back to Brazil, Neves told Union Radio in Venezuela that “We’re here to show that we are worried, and to insist that democracy prevails through the region. Unfortunately, we have been attacked and stymied.”
The Brazilian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday night calling “Hostile acts from protesters toward Brazilian lawmakers … unacceptable.”
Brazil’s Senate passed a motion condemning the episode.
This was not the first time that the jailed opposition leaders were prevented from meeting with foreigners.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez who went to Caracas to lend his support to the lawyers of two jailed opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, was declared a “persona non grata” by President Nicolas Maduro.
Gonzalez is the longtime head of the Socialist Workers’ Party and led Spain as its prime minister from 1982 to 1996. He was not able to participate in the defense of the jailed opposition leaders, but visited their families and learned about their plight.
Andres Pastrana and Jorge Quiroga, former presidents of Colombia and Bolivia respectively, have also offered their support to imprisoned political prisoners.
The two former leaders wanted to visit three jailed opposition leaders - Lopez, Ledezma and Daniel Ceballos - during a visit to Venezuela in late May, but did not succeed.