WASHINGTON, D.C — The United States on Saturday, Feb. 18, repeated its call for Venezuela to release some hundred political prisoners, including a jailed opposition leader whose liberation Donald Trump urged earlier this week, inflaming tensions between the two countries.
The State Department’s call came days after the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the punishment of Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a nearly 14-year sentence on charges of inciting unrest at anti-government protests in 2014.
“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 department’s acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The State Department also urged Venezuela to release opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Daniel Ceballos, along with “many other students, activists, journalists and peaceful protesters.”
“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,” the statement said.
The ruling on Lopez’s appeal, which was filed in July, came a day after Trump received Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, at the White House and posted a tweet calling for the prisoner’s release.
“Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately,” Trump tweeted following the meeting.
Lopez is the founder of Popular Will, one of the most hardline parties opposing President Nicolas Maduro.
Some 200 Venezuelan opposition supporters marched on Saturday, blocking one of the main highways in Caracas to protest Lopez’s imprisonment.
Shortly before Trump sent his Twitter missive this week, Maduro had warned the U.S. that Venezuela would “respond firmly” to any action deemed aggressive.
“Those who tangle with us will get an appropriate response,” he said on state television.
Relations had already been strained on Monday when the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Maduro’s powerful Vice President Tareck El Aissami and a businessman, whom the U.S. authorities accuse of being involved in drug trafficking.
Washington has had a shaky relationship with Caracas since the late Hugo Chavez rose to power in 1999.
Read more here