US Vice-President Pence Telephones Venezuela’s Leopoldo Lopez

US Vice-president Mike Pence spoke with the rightwing politician Friday, the Whitehouse has confirmed.
Caracas, July 29, 2017 ( – US Vice-President Mike Pence had a telephone conversation with the convicted right-wing Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez Friday, the White House has confirmed.
In an official press release, the office of the Vice-President said that the two politicians talked about the “dire situation” in Venezuela, while Pence expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan people on behalf of the Trump administration. 
Right-wing leader Lopez is a controversial figure in Venezuela. In 2015 he was given a 13-year nine month jail sentence for his role in leading violent anti-government protests the previous year which led to the deaths of 43 people.
He was released on house arrest in July 2017 on health grounds, but has since called for more protests to remove the elected leftist government from office. 
During Friday’s conversation, the VP also went on to “praise Mr. López for his courage and outspoken defense of Venezuelan democracy” and reiterated several recent demands of the US government, including “free and fair elections” and the cancellation of elections this Sunday to choose delegates to the National Constituent Assembly. Those elected to the assembly will be responsible rewriting the country’s 1999 Constitution.
The constitutional initiative was put forward by the national government as a way to bring peace to the polarised country, where violent anti-government unrest has raged for almost four months, costing the lives of 115 people to date. Nonetheless the opposition has boycotted the initiative as “unconstitutional” and vowed to disrupt the vote. 
Both the US and Canada have also strongly opposed the constitutional rewrite. On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department moved to sanction 13 high ranking officials in the Venezuelan government and military, citing opposition to Sunday’s ANC elections.
Pence also repeated to Lopez the Trump administration’s intention to enact “strong and swift economic actions” in retribution should the elections go ahead during the telephone conversation. 
Lopez has consistently worked with Washington in its attempts to destabilise Venezuela’s leftist government. But leaked cables published by whistleblower Wikileaks in 2014 show that several US officials view Lopez as “arrogant” and difficult to work with. 
Earlier in the week, Washington ordered relatives of its diplomats to leave Caracas, as well as issued a travel warning telling US citizens to avoid travel to the South American country.