Brazil ex-president Cardoso to defend Venezuela opposition leaders

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Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso poses in an interview with Reuters in Sao Paulo March 23, 201Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Fernando Henrique Cardoso will join the team defending Venezuelan opposition leaders

Brazilian ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will form part of a team defending jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders, his party says.

Mr Cardoso accepted an invitation by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to join a team defending Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

Mr Lopez and Mr Ledezma are prominent opposition politicians in Venezuela.

Mr Lopez has been charged with inciting violence and Mr Ledezma with taking part in an alleged coup.

'Politically motivated'

Both deny the allegations. Their families have tried to enlist the support of influential international figures in order to secure their release.

Mr Lopez has been in detention for more than a year since he handed himself over to the authorities in February.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Leopoldo Lopez was detained on 18 February 2014 and charged with inciting violence

He is accused of inciting violence during mass protests he led in early 2014.

Forty-three people from both sides of the political divide died during several months of protests.

Mr Ledezma, a veteran opposition politician who was serving as mayor of Caracas, was arrested last month and charged with conspiracy.

Their supporters say the charges are politically motivated, but the government argues they want to violently overthrow the democratically elected government of Mr Maduro.

High-profile support

Mr Cardoso will join a team made up of Felipe Gonzalez, Peruvian ex-leader Alan Garcia, and former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.

Defence team

  • Felipe Gonzalez, Spanish Prime Minister from 1982 to 1996, intervened in the case of two political prisoners held by Augusto Pinochet in Chile
  • Alan Garcia, two-times president of Peru from 1985-1990 and 2006-2011
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003
  • Irwin Cotler, Canada's Minister for Justice 2003-2006, served as counsel to prisoners of conscience, including Nelson Mandela

Mr Cardoso would travel to Venezuela to "examine the situation" of the prisoners, members of his centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) said.

He is expected to be joined on the trip by Brazilian former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and Brazilian senator Aloysio Nunez.

Divisive figure

The fate of the detained opposition leaders has divided opinion in Venezuela.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
There have been demonstrations by supporters of Mr Ledezma and Mr Lopez to demand their release

Their supporters say they are being targeted for their political views while the government accuses them of fomenting a coup.

Senior government officials regularly refer to Mr Lopez as the "monster of Ramo Verde" after the prison were he is held.

The announcement by Mr Gonzalez that he would be joining the defence team triggered a strong response from the Venezuelan government.

President Maduro accused him of forming part of an international conspiracy to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Mr Gonzalez had "no right to act as a lawyer in Venezuela" and urged the socialist former leader to "find something else to do with his life and not act as a lobbyist for international and local right-wing interests".