21 February 2014, 17:57

Venezuelan opposition leader faces reduced charges, Maduro wobbly

By Crystal Park
WASHINGTON (VR)– Venezuelan prosecutors have dropped their most serious charges against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested earlier this week.

Lopez, a prominent figure in the opposition movement, was initially charged with terrorism and murder in connection with at least five deaths during clashes with police. Those charges have been dropped, but Lopez still faces arson and conspiracy charges, which carry a possibility of up to 10 years in prison.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both warned Venezuela of using political opponents as scapegoats.

Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, says the political climate in Venezuela is ripe for dissent.

"The government is weaker today than it's ever been, particularly economically because they have so few reserves, and what reserves are left are basically committed either to China or they're in the form of bonds from the so-called ALBA countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, which aren't even worth the paper they're printed on. So the government is nearing bankruptcy."

President Nicolas Maduro addressed his people Wednesday night through a televised broadcast. He challenged his detractors to "leave Venezuela" if they don't like it. Maduro was elected in a democratic election in April last year.
But Purcell says Maduro's government is anything but democratic.

"This government has been masquerading as a democratic government just because it had elections, which of course, were contested and there was no supervision."

"There is a democratic process that is totally non-transparent and opaque. Let's call a spade a spade. This government has increasingly become authoritarian, if not dictatorial."

Purcell is also critical of President Nicolas Maduro's crackdown on protestors.

"The distribution of weapons, in this case, is highly skewed in the direction of the government and its supporters. It's not a balanced thing."

"This is a very un-level playing field."

Maduro doesn't think so. He blames the U.S. of plotting to destabilize his government. His sentiments echo his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez's assertions.

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Crystal Park, Venezuela, Latin Beat, Susan Kaufman Purcell, Latin Beat
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