Caracas, September 4, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry hit back at the governments of Argentina, Chile, Spain, and the United Kingdom over the weekend in response to a string of declarations condemning a travel ban on a right-wing opposition leader pending criminal inquiries.
On Saturday, the Venezuelan government prohibited Lilian Tintori from boarding a flight to Panama with a connection to Madrid on the orders of a Caracas district court. The travel ban was imposed after authorities discovered wooden crates containing 200 million bolivares in newly minted bills– equivalent to US$10,468 at the black market rate – stashed in a vehicle belonging to Tintori’s brother.
The wife of hard-right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Tintori has admitted the cash belongs to her family, though she claimed that the money was allegedly intended for her 100-year-old grandmother who “has no [health] insurance”. Social media networks subsequently exploded in response to her statement with Tintori becoming the ninth worldwide trending topic on Twitter as many users mocked the opposition leader’s explanation for the massive quantity of cash.
Following news of the travel ban, a number of foreign governments issued public statements lambasting Caracas over the move.
“The travel ban on Lilian Tintori [is] lamentable. They can lock up people but not ideals. Freedom for Venezuela,” tweeted Spanish Prime Mariano Rajoy on Saturday.
In response to the declaration, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza fired back, demanding “respect” for Venezuela’s “democracy and institutions”.
“The president of the Spanish government, in his obsession against Venezuela, shelters grave crimes of corruption and questions our judicial system,” Arreaza tweeted, alluding to an ongoing Spanish corruption probe that has implicated Rajoy and other top leaders of his governing Popular Party.
The UK government under Prime Minister Theresa May likewise issued a statement condemning the incident and calling for Tintori to be “permitted to travel soon”. According to the UK Foreign Office, Tintori was set to meet with the heads of state of Spain, UK, Germany, and France “as part of an important initiative to update European governments on the situation in Venezuela”.
In an official communiqué, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry reprimanded the UK government for “openly inferring in Venezuelan internal affairs on the basis of a profound ignorance of Venezuelan reality”.
Caracas also took aim at Santiago and Buenos Aires after both governments weighed in on the travel ban.
“President Mauricio Macri should give information to his people and the world about the squatter and activist Santiago Maldonado,” tweeted Arreaza, referring to the case of the 28-year-old Argentine activist who disappeared during a military police raid on an indigenous Mapuche community on August 1.
In response to tweet by Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz criticizing the travel ban on Tintori, Arreaza manifested his government’s rejection of what he termed “disrespectful interference in Venezuelan internal affairs”.
Tintori has gained prominence on the world stage in the course of numerous international tours demanding the release of her formerly imprisoned husband. Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 13 years and nine months jail time for his role in leading 2014’s violent anti-government protests that left 43 dead, the majority state security personnel, government supporters, and passerby. In July, the opposition hardliner was released on house arrest over alleged health concerns.
While Tintori has become a popular figure among violent opposition street protesters at the forefront of four months of anti-government demonstrations, her husband’s party, Popular Will (VP), has increasingly come under fire from the right over its decision to participate in upcoming regional elections this October.
Last week, radical opposition politician Alberto Franceschi accused Tintori of lying about the cash, alleging that the money was actually destined to pay VP staff for the regional elections campaign.
“The 200 million that Lilian had in the truck was not for her grandmother, [but] for the Popular Will activists,” he claimed.