Chilean ex-President Sebastian Piñera and Colombian ex-President Andres Pastrana attempted to visit Leopoldo Lopez at the Ramo Verde military prison near Caracas, but were denied entry to the grounds by National Guard troops.
The former presidents are in Venezuela at the invitation of opposition figure Maria Corina Machado, who led the dignitaries to the Ramo Verde prison in which Lopez has been held for nearly a year. His detention has been condemned by a number of international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, and the Socialist International.
Pastrana expressed his surprise by the government’s move, since Lopez is allowed visitation days. Pastrana said:
We did not ask for [specific] authorization because we came on a visitation day. We don’t have to ask for authorization.
Below, a shot of the National Guard troops blocking the road to Ramo Verde:
The video below shows the scene at the gate of Ramo Verde as Pastrana and the rest of his party attempted to negotiate their way through the guards. In the video below, Pastrana is seen asking people for a press pass, believing that perhaps having one would allow him access to Lopez. When he’s informed that one one has one, he turns to the guards and shrugs, apparently still trying to persuade them:
Once it became clear that they were not going to be allowed into the prison, Pastrana asked sarcastically, “Does anyone have the number for Miraflores?” The Colombian ex-president took a more serious tone later, saying:
The minimum human rights gesture that can be afforded to a prisoner is the right to visitation. By not allowing us to enter, Leopoldo Lopez’s status as a political prisoner has been confirmed.
Piñera had similar comments:
We’ve come here to visit and ask for the release of Leopoldo Lopez. He’s been in jail for almost one year, and according to the United Nations, there’s no reason for him to be deprived of his liberty like this. Liberty is a sacred right.
Maria Corina Machado alleged that the order to deny their visit came from Venezuela Vice-President Jorge Arreaza, who apparently told the Chilean ambassador to pass on the message that the men were not welcomed in Ramo Verde.
Another shot of the scene, this one including Leopoldo Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori:
Dignitaries Witness Supermarket Lines
Pastrana and Piñera were taken to the Bicentenario supermarket in Plaza Venezuela, Caracas so that they could see the long lines that routinely form outside the establishment:
The political coordinator of the Voluntad Popular party, Freddy Guevara, accompanied the men to the site, and tweeted:
Pastrana and Piñera heard from some children in the Bicentenario line: ‘We’ve been lined up since 7:00 AM and there’s no chicken’.
Maduro Spends most of January Abroad
Despite the deepening economic crisis gripping the country, Maduro has been out of the country for the first 18 out of 24 days of January.
After delivering a much-anticipated but ultimately underwhelming speech before the National Assembly on Wednesday, Maduro left for Bolivia to attend Evo Morales’ inauguration. He was barely in Venezuela for 3 days before leaving to Saudi Arabia to attend the late King Abdullah’s funeral.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles took issue with Maduro’s constant travels, saying:
25,000 murders in 2014 – did you at any point hear Maduro give a single word of support, or condolence? But he travelled across the world for a king’s funeral.
We’ve always known that Nicolas was lazy, the country is in a grave crisis, we don’t have the money we need. How many days has he been abroad? (…) There’s no money for medicine, but there’s more than enough money for Nicolas’ tourist trips and those of his entourage.