Jailed Venezuelan opposition politicians on hunger strike

Two opposition politicians in Venezuela jailed for over a year ago went on hunger strike in late May, demanding release of political prisoners and date for upcoming parliamentary elections in late 2015

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Two jailed opposition politicians in Venezuela, now at separate prisons, are continuing their hunger strike, maintaining their demand that the government release fellow imprisoned political activists, supporters said on Wednesday.

Leopoldo Lopez, 44, and Daniel Ceballos, 31, members of the opposition Popular Will Party (VP), were arrested after protests broke out in Venezuela in early 2014 during which 43 people died and hundreds were wounded.

The protests were described by Nicolas Maduro’s government as an undemocratic coup d’etat attempt orchestrated by “fascist” opposition leaders and the United States.

Maduro holds the two men responsible for the deaths that occurred in 2014’s unrest, calling them criminals who want to unseat him, and has no plans to order their release, Reuters reports.

Lopez and Ceballos were both being held at the Ramo Verde military prison until Saturday, when Ceballos was transferred to a civilian jail in the state of Guarico.

In a video leaked on May 23, Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, calls the government corrupt and incompetent, and blames authorities for the deaths that occurred during the 2014 protests.

“One year and three months after our call for change, the situation has gotten even worse. More lines, more inflation, more scarcity, more crime, more corruption,” he says in the video, before announcing he and Ceballos are starting a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners, the end of repression, and a set date for legislative elections, the Associated Press reported.

Venezuela’s currency, which has two official exchange rates (resulting in goods determined “nonessential” and “essential” being imported at different rates), lost a quarter of its value during the week before the video.

Embattled Venezuelan president Maduro blames capitalism and speculation for causing high inflation rates - currently above 50 percent - and goods scarcities as part of an “economic war” being waged against his government.

In the same YouTube video which his wife Lilian Tintori shared on Twitter, Lopez also called for a “massive, peaceful” protest march on May 30.

Thousands of protesters held rallies across Venezuela on Saturday heeding Lopez’s call. The protesters demanded the release of political prisoners and criticised Maduro’s administration.

In Caracas alone, there were about 10,000 protesters assembled in a peaceful protest, PanAm Post reported. Agence France-Presse put the number closer to 3,000.

Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), was criticised for releasing a statement saying that it would not officially attend nor support the rallies.

MUD General Secretary Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba defended the coalition by saying it had said the protest was legitimate, and could be attended by individuals who wished to do so.

Torrealba said that important future decisions to be taken by MUD need to be “result of debate.” Asserting “no leader or party is exempt from consulting with the coalition,” he told PanAm Post that “those working with [Lopez] had the chance to check with us, or any initiative [before organising a rally].”

Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, has subsisted on water and a nutrient serum for 10 days, his family said on Wednesday.

“He has lost six kilos, but I’m impressed by his strength and clarity of thought,” his mother Antonieta Mendoza said in an interview.

Formerly the mayor of San Cristobal, Ceballos stopped eating properly 12 days ago and appears to be in a worse physical condition, Reuters reported his supporters as saying.

TRTWorld and agencies