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Venezuela Should Release Opposition Leader

supporter of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma holds a poster of him with chains during a protest demanding his release in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.

The United States condemns the detention of Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma by Venezuelan security forces.

The United States condemns the detention of Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma by Venezuelan security forces, as well as the systematic intimidation of other leading opposition figures.

Venezuela Should Release Opposition Leader
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The arrest of Mr. Ledezma coincides with the one year anniversary of anti-government protests in Venezuela that resulted in more than 40 deaths. In 2014, national police and intelligence agents arrested students, other mayors, and opposition leaders during that unrest. Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested during the 2014 unrest, remains incarcerated at a military prison.

The Venezuelan government’s accusations and arrests of opposition figures appear to be an attempt by the Venezuelan government to divert attention from the country's economic and political challenges. Venezuela’s economy is in dire straits and the government’s failure to implement pragmatic reforms is only making it worse. According to Venezuela’s Central Bank inflation for 2014 was 68 percent, the highest in Latin America. At the same time, Venezuela’s oil revenues are being squeezed by lower international oil prices. Items such as life-saving medicine, flour, sugar, and milk are in short supply.

Venezuela's economic woes cannot be solved by criminalizing legitimate democratic dissent. These tactics violate the Venezuelan people's human rights and civil liberties and flout the principles and values agreed to by Venezuela and set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Rather than imprisoning and intimidating its critics, the Venezuelan government should focus on finding real solutions through a dialogue.

The Venezuelan government should release those it has unjustly jailed and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The United States calls on other countries, leaders, and organizations to urge the Venezuelan government to cease its effort to silence the political opposition and further weaken democratic institutions.