The wives and mother of two political prisoners in Venezuela have chained themselves to the gates of the Vatican to demand Pope Francis intervene for the swift liberation of their loved ones, the former mayor of Caracas and the head of one of its largest opposition parties.
Lilian Tintori and Antonieta López — the wife and mother, respectively, of opposition party leader Leopoldo López — and Mitzy Capriles, the wife of former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, have chained themselves to the Vatican as a form of peaceful protest for Pope Francis’s intervention in the crisis currently engulfing the Latin American nation.
Despite socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro canceling a meeting with the Pope in 2015, Pope Francis met Maduro at the Vatican in late October, welcoming him to the Holy See and offering “to take any step that would contribute to resolving open questions and generate greater trust between the parties.”
The Vatican now has an active role in the dialogue between the socialist government and the opposition in the legislature, though the Maduro government has prevented talks from advancing. The opposition is demanding Maduro allow a constitutionally-permitted recall process to continue, placing him on the national ballot within the next year.
“What has compelled us to enact this peaceful protest is a decision of peace, love, solidarity with more than 100 political prisoners, prisoners that should have never been there because they are innocent,” Tintori told reporters about her protest.
“We have faith that the Vatican will help us achieve the freedom of the political prisoners,” added Capriles.
Leopoldo López, the leader of the opposition Popular Will party, was arrested in February 2014 for organizing a peaceful protest against socialism and charged with “terrorism.” He is currently serving a 13-year sentence. Tintori has alleged that he is subject to inhuman treatment in his detention, kept in solitary confinement to prevent him from discussing politics with other prisoners. Tintori herself has alleged that guards have abused her, forcing her and López’s mother to strip naked before allowing them to see their loved one.
Antonio Ledezma was violently arrested in February 2015, “dragged like a dog” out of his office by Venezuelan secret police for his participation in opposition protests.
In solidarity with the women, at least one Venezuelan opposition legislator has chained himself to the Apostolic Nunciature (the Vatican’s embassy) in Caracas. Rosmit Mantilla told reporters he was chaining himself “for the freedom of my brothers kidnapped by the Regime.”
The Vatican protests have begun just as news of a new hunger strike surfaces from Ramo Verde prison, the facility designated for many political prisoners. A Catholic publication in Venezuela reports that nine political prisoners have announced a hunger strike, concluding when their demands are met. The prisoners are demanding their freedom, “humanitarian aid, and elections.” The report adds that the men among them were “brutally beaten” following the announcement of the hunger strike.