Wife of jailed opposition leader in Venezuela wants more help from the US

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. We're a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH here in Boston. Here's a question that was on more than a few minds today. Will it happen, or not? I'm talking about the possibility of a meeting between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. They're both in Panama at the Summit of the Americas and it turns out they will meet, officially, tomorrow. But a possible meeting between the American and Cuban presidents is not main concern for Lilian Tintori. She's a Venezuelan human rights activist, and she's also the wife of jailed Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez, who's been in jail for more than a year now. He's accused of leading the 2014 protest against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Lilian Tintori says she's at the Summit of the Americas to speak out for her husband and her country.

 

Lilian Tintori: We are here in Panama representing all the voices of Venezuela, representing all our political prisoners. We have 80 political prisoners in Venezuela, including mayors, students and my husband.

 

Werman: So the White House recently said that because of Venezuela's human rights record, the country is a big threat to American security. Not just Venezuelan security, but American security. How do you feel about that?

 

Tintori: We don't have a rule of law in Venezuela. We live fear. It's a crisis that we are living right now, a political crisis, a social crisis, an economic crisis. But the first right, the first human right that is alive, that is the most important right because it is our life, they violate every 20 minutes because every 20 minutes die a Venezuelan. Every 20 minutes we hear the shot of one more people.

 

Werman: So what would you like the United States to do about that? I mean, if you had five minutes to sit down with Barack Obama at the Summit if the Americas, what would you ask him, what would you tell him?

 

Tintori: Put pressure on the region of Latin America because never in the story a country with this crisis, with this big crisis that has Venezuela, never, never in the story, the country can go out of the crisis alone. We need to put more pressure in the region, because then this region to free all the political prisoners in my country, Venezuela.

 

Werman: I mean, the US has had a pretty dodgy record of putting pressure on counties in Latin America. Isn't your husband's detention, isn't the detention of all those political prisoners in Venezuela, really an internal matter that the US should not be meddling in?

 

Tintori: Human rights don't have borders. [unintelligible Spanish] Human rights don't have borders. We need to work with the same flag. It's the flag of the big meetings. It's the flag of human rights. I am not a politician. Leopoldo is a politician. I am an activist of human rights and I ask him for support. I ask him for help, not only for my family, for all Venezuelans in my country.

 

Werman: Lilian, finally, what is the mood like at the Summit of the Americas in Panama today, and are the politicians taking human rights seriously? Are they taking you seriously?

 

Tintori: Yes. It is an international duty to protect rights according to international law. And UN has already said the government needs to free Leopoldo Lopez and all the political prisoners in my country, including Antonio Ledezma, our mayor of the capitol, Caracas, including Daniel Ceballos, mayor San Cristobal, including all our students. They are our heroes of democracy.

 

Werman: Lilian Tintori, Venezuelan human rights activist and wife of jailed opposition figure in Venezuela, Leopoldo Lopez. Ms. Tintori, thank you very much for your time today.

 

Tintori: Thank you, Marco.