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Venezuela - a country divided

Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, rejects government's claims he incited violence.
Last modified: 26 Feb 2014 04:35

The government of President Nicolas Maduro with its red-shirted supporters is implementing what it calls its Boliviarian revolution started 15 years ago by Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

It is designed to more equally distribute Venezuela's vast oil wealth among the country's many poor.

Opposing the government, is the mostly white-shirted demonstrators who accuse Maduro's government of corruption, brutality, and wrecking the economy.

It has suffered up until now from fragmented leadership.

Henrique Capriles, a provincial governor, lost his bid for the presidency last year and has been accused by some in his own movement of being too moderate.

No such accusations have been levelled against Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and opposition leader.

He was imprisoned last week on charges of inciting the recent violence across Venezuela that has left at least 13 people dead.

His wife, Lilian Tintori, speaking to Al Jazeera, said his imprisonment was politically motivated.

"You'll remember that in 2008 Leopoldo was prevented from standing by President Chavez as mayor of one of the most important regions of Venezuela," she said.

"He wasn't allowed to stand. I remember he said to me: 'This is like being a prisoner. Being prevented from standing is like being a prisoner from life.'"

Country full of fear

With her husband's imprisonment, Tintori, a 36-year-old former TV presenter, has become a high-profile opposition figure in her own right.

She appeared alongside Capriles at a rally on Saturday with thousands of opposition supporters calling for Lopez's release.

Only she and her family are allowed to visit him in what she says is a tiny cell where he´s kept isolated from the other prisoners and the outside world.

"Leopoldo was very clear," she said.

"If him going to jail means that Venezuelans wake up, then it's worth him going to jail. If it's days, months, whatever it takes, to make sure that justice is done here."

Mrs Tintori went on to say that Venezuela is a country full of fear.

"We're all scared that we'll be killed or kidnapped. We go to the supermarket and queue for hours to buy supplies which are rationed. You can't get cooking oil or toilet paper. Sometimes you can't get meat or chicken."

President Maduro calls the opposition fascists and says they are supported by the US and neighbouring Colombia to undermine his government.

He blames them for the violence.

Accusations rejected

Tintori angrily denied both the claims made by Maduro.

"The only thing behind the opposition movement is people," she said.

"People and more people and these are all Venezuelans. The only weapons we've got are our hands and legs and we walk, we march peacefully. We don't have weapons."

President Maduro has called for dialogue with all sectors of society, while still accusing the opposition of fomenting the violence and being behind what he calls an attempted coup.

Tintori said that even if she were invited, she would not talk to the president.

"We have nothing to discuss with a dictatorial regime," she said.

"We say that every day we're living in a dictatorship with all that's going on. Every day we see more and more and more terrible things."

The worst of the violence seen in the past few weeks has abated for now. But both sides in this polarised society continue to hurl insults at one another, blame the other for the violence.

The few compromises are made reluctantly. Venezuela is living in very tense times.