WASHINGTON — The father of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has called for U.S. sanctions against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, saying targeted sanctions against corrupt officials could help boost anti-government protests in the country.
"I do hope that the U.S. can force some sanctions," said Lopez's father, also named Leopoldo Lopez, in a phone interview with BuzzFeed on Wednesday while visiting family in the United States. "Not general sanctions that would hurt the population like they did in the Cuban embargo, but personal sanctions that would recognize the corruption in our government by sanctioning drug traffickers in the army and government officials."
"There's money laundering that has been going on for years," Lopez said. "People that have incredible properties here in the U.S. without justifying it."
The Venezuelan opposition is split on the question of whether or not the U.S. should levy sanctions against members of the Maduro government, which some members of Congress have proposed but which looks unlikely to happen. In an interview with BuzzFeed last month, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who is seen as a more moderate voice in the opposition to Maduro, said he did not think public action on the part of the U.S. would be helpful. "Venezuela government officials having money in the U.S. is an internal affair of the U.S. and I think the U.S. has to be very clear in what it says, not to give the Venezuelan government an excuse to victimize itself and trying to make us Venezuelans believe there is an intervention against Venezuela," Capriles said.
Lopez Sr. said he disagreed that sanctions would give Maduro an excuse to play the martyr.
"I doubt it would have that effect if it's only taken on a personal basis," he said. "If you prove that the generals that today are running the ministry of interior or defense are corrupt people and people who are money laundering and drug trafficking, how can anyone think that would not help? It would definitely help. The country needs proof of the corruption that is going on."
Venezuela has been in turmoil for months during anti-government protests inspired by a swiftly worsening economic and security situation. Nearly 40 people have died in the protests, and the opposition says many of them have died at the hands of paramilitaries allegedly funded by the government.
Lopez, the leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party has been in a military prison since February on charges of arson, conspiracy, terrorism, and murder (the murder and terrorism charges have since been dropped) for his role in the protests. Lopez is seen as one of the more radical members of the opposition and espouses the La Salida ("The Exit") strategy, which calls for Maduro to step down on face a referendum or whether he should remain in office.
His father told BuzzFeed that the family fears that Lopez will be held until after the parliamentary elections in 2015, in order to keep him from campaigning.
Lopez Sr. said the family didn't believe much in current talks between the government and the opposition, calling them a "masquerade," but he said it was a hopeful sign that the Vatican was getting involved.
"Internationally the Pope Francisco has agreed to send his chancellor to Venezuela as a witness of the process, which for us is hopeful because the other witnesses are people who are somehow sympathetic to the government — Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia are very close in interests to support Maduro," Lopez said.
"We don't believe in those witnesses and of course we don't believe in the conference," he said. "The students are not represented and Leopoldo's party is not represented. Maria Corina [Machado, another opposition leader] is not represented. Antonio Ledezma [the opposition mayor of Caracas] is not represented. Who is really sitting down to talk with the government? People who are only interested in getting some posts in the supreme court or the election council. So we feel very bad about that and do support the students in not recognizing that conference as a valid conference."
Lopez said his son's incarceration was symbolic of the struggle faced by the Venezuelan protesters. "It represents Venezuelans' prison," Lopez said. "Everyone is in prison now when we have someone like Leopoldo in prison."