Caracas, February 16, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – US President Donald Trump held an unannounced meeting Wednesday with Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed hard-right Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
The meeting, which was not listed on the president’s public itinerary, took place during a dinner with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is a vehement opponent of the elected government of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.
Trump took the opportunity to call for the release of Lopez, tweeting a photo of himself, Vice-President Mike Pence, Rubio, and Tintori in the Oval Office.
In 2015, Lopez was sentenced to thirteen years and nine months in prison for his role in leading 2014’s violent anti-government protests that left 43 dead, the majority of whom security personnel, passer-bys, and government supporters. The street mobilizations resulted in an additional 800 injured as well as millions of dollars in property damage.
On Thursday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Lopez’s defense team to reverse the sentence, describing the request as legally “baseless”.
Prior to her meeting with Trump, Tintori sat down with Florida congressional representatives Carlos Curbelo (R), Mario Diaz-Balart (R), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), all of whom signed a bipartisan letter to the president earlier this month urging tougher sanctions against Venezuela.
The statement by the president follows a decision by the US Treasury Department Monday to sanctionVenezuelan Vice-President Tarek El Aissami over drug trafficking allegations, making El Aissami the highest-ranking foreign official to be targeted in this way. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry delivered a formal letter of protest to the US embassy Tuesday, vowing a legal and diplomatic response to what it has termed an “unprecedented” move.
President Trump’s hardline stance on Venezuela marks an escalation from the Obama administration, which supported dialogue between the government and the opposition, despite labeling the South American country an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security.