Latin American leaders have called for calm after Venezuela’s government arrested an opposition leader. Before surrendering to authorities Tuesday, Leopoldo Lopez had told supporters he didn't fear serving jail time.
Late Tuesday, Human Rights Watch criticized Lopez's detention and called for international assistance in securing his release from the government of President Nicolas Maduro. HRW Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco said Maduro's government had made no valid case against Lopez and merely justified his imprisonment through "insults and conspiracy theories."
"The arrest of Leopoldo Lopez constitutes a scandalous violation of one of the most basic principles of due process, which is that you cannot imprison a person without proof linking him to a crime," Vivanco said. He added that he and many believed that Lopez was arrested because he "is a political opponent of the president."
"We've got nothing to hide," Lopez said Tuesday, before handing himself over to security forces. A day and night of demonstrations for and against the arrest followed.
"We wish the best of luck to the Venezuelan people and government in achieving stable peace and democracy," said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, under whose leadership the country has seen mass student demonstrations. However, Pinera cautioned that he was not commenting on the political situation: "Chile respects the self-determination of all peoples."
Lopez, a Harvard-educated political figure, has been accused by President Maduro of leading a "fascist" plot to overthrow the government. Some Latin American leaders also saw the protests by Venezuela's opposition before and after Lopez's arrest as a way of trying to wrest power in the streets rather than through the ballot box.
Venezuela "can't accept these anti-democratic intentions," Ecuadoran Chancellor Ricardo Patino said late Tuesday. "The international community should reject this. In the name of Ecuador, we say that we cannot tolerate that political groups attempt to take power through violent means."
On Sunday, Venezuelan Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez announced an arrest warrant for Lopez on murder and terrorism charges connected with violence surrounding anti-government protests during the past week. Police had searched the home of Lopez's parents on Saturday as part of a manhunt to locate the opposition leader before he turned himself over to authorities on Tuesday.
Subway stations were closed around Caracas as pro- and anti-government protesters demonstrated Tuesday. At least four people have been killed over the past week's unrest.
Critics of President Maduro have been holding mass demonstrations to force his resignation. They blame him for supporting economic policies that have driven inflation above 50 percent, led to a shortage of hard currency and of consumer goods. The left-wing leader rose to power last year after longtime President Hugo Chavez passed away.
On Monday, the Venezuelan president ordered the expulsion of three US consular officials he had accused of being linked to students involved in anti-government protests. They are suspected of using visa outreach as a cover up for infiltrating the country's university system.
mkg/mz (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)