From Venezuela Jail, Leopoldo Lopez Calls for Election Oversight

  • Lopez writes in editorial that he's in solitary confinement
  • Lopez calls for international observers in December elections

Writing from solitary confinement in a Venezuelan prison, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called for the release of political prisoners in the South American nation and international observers in congressional elections later this year.

Lopez said he was being held in a 7-by-10-foot cell without light or even a candle when it gets dark outside, according to an editorial he published Friday in the New York Times.

“We have lost our democracy,” Lopez said, adding that he did not regret his decision to turn himself in instead of trying to flee the country. “For the December elections, pressure must be applied on the government to allow electoral observers.”

Lopez was sentenced to almost 14 years in a military jail this month for allegedly inciting violence during a wave of anti-government protests that left 43 people dead and hundreds injured last year. The Harvard-educated former mayor of the Chacao district of Caracas has maintained his innocence, and his case has become a cause celebre for rights groups who say his detention is evidence that the ruling Socialist party is increasingly cracking down on dissent.

“The government targets those who disagree and uses repression to stay in power,” Lopez wrote. “The judgment against me is intended to send a message to all Venezuelans who strive for a better country that, unless they desist and concede to the regime, they will be next.”

Polls increasingly show President Nicolas Maduro’s party may lose congress to the opposition for the first time in 16 years in the Dec. 6 election as the world’s fastest inflation and record shortages of food and medicine eat into their support in the shantytowns.

Maduro said on July 28 that he would not allow anyone to monitor the election.

“The lack of international election observers will likely cast doubts over the legitimacy of the results, particularly if the government is able to maintain a simple majority or the results are very close,” Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow said in note to clients on Aug. 17.

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