Thursday, February 16, 2017
President Donald Trump has called on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoner Leopoldo López, following a meeting last night with the man's wife and Senator Marco Rubio.
Mr López, who is the leader of Venezuela's opposition party, Voluntad Popular, was jailed for nearly 14 years on charges of inciting violence at anti-government protests in 2014.
Following a meeting at the White House with the prisoner's wife, Lilian Tintori, the President took to social media to call for action.
Alongside a picture of himself with Ms Tintori, Mr Rubio and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump tweeted: 'Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately.'
The meeting came at the end of a busy day for the President, which included a meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu followed by a press conference.
Ms Tintori, who is a television and radio star in Venezuela, said she told Trump of the 'humanitarian crisis' in the country, which is led by a radical Left-wing government.
She also took to Twitter to thank Trump and Pence 'for standing with the Venezuelan people & our aspirations to restore democracy to our country'.
She added in Spanish that President Nicolás Maduro's government was a 'dictatorship' that left its people 'without food or medicine'.
Mr Rubio was at the White House with his wife Jeanette for dinner with Trump and his wife Melania, although the President's former campaign rival refused to reveal what was to be discussed at the meeting.
Mr López was educated at Harvard University and has led the opposition to Venezuela's socialist government since 2009.
Before then he was mayor of a district in the capital city of Caracas but in 2008 he was barred from running for re-election for allegedly misusing public funds - an allegation for which he was not tried or convicted.
His arrest provoked outrage and his sentence was criticized by the United Nations as well as the US Government.
In 2015 he went on a month-long hunger strike in his cell, demanding the release of political prisoners and international observation of elections.
Since her husband's imprisonment, Ms Tintori has campaigned for his release.
Mr Trump has not spoken publicly about Mr López's case before.
The President's call came as it emerged the Venezuelan government ordered the suspension of CNN's Spanish-language service from its airwaves, accusing it of distorting the truth in coverage.
The network had irked the socialist government with various reports, including one alleging that Venezuelan passports and visas were being sold illegally at the embassy in Iraq.
But speaking on Wednesday, President Maduro said he did 'not want problems with the Trump administration'.
He added: 'We want respectful relations.'
The ruling United Socialist Party was founded by Hugo Chávez in 2007.
Chávez, a former revolutionary, was elected to power in 1999, following a failed coup seven years earlier.
He was President for 14 years until his death in 2013 and was regarded as one of the most controversial leaders in Latin America.