CARACAS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition denounced the sentencing of politician Leopoldo Lopez to nearly 14 years in jail as a tyrannical move by the unpopular ruling Socialists, vowing to redouble their campaign to beat them in December’s parliamentary election.
Jailed hardline opposition leader Lopez was convicted late on Thursday of inciting 2014 anti-government protests that led to violence killing 43 people. He was found guility of provoking arson, violence, and damage to public property.
After 18 months of a well-oiled international campaign in Washington and the United Nations to lobby for Lopez’s release, his wife, mother, and supporters were shaken by the sentencing.
“Today it is reaffirmed once again that we live under a repressive, anti-democratic regime,” said Lilian Tintori, a former champion kite-surfer who has two children with Lopez.
Journalists and international observers were not allowed into the heavily guarded Palace of Justice. Judge Susana Barreiros rejected 58 of the 60 defense’s witnesses, though she allowed the prosecution 108 witnesses, according to Lopez’s lawyers, who will appeal the sentence.
“This trial was not objective at all,” said Diana Quintero, 50, a publicist, weeping in Caracas’ wealthy Chacao district, where Lopez was once mayor, flanked by supporters chanting for his release after news of his sentence was announced.
“Maduro sees Lopez as his strongest rival.”
President Nicolas Maduro says Lopez is a dangerous criminal and pawn of the elite, intent on subverting the government under the guise of peaceful protests. He points to Lopez’s attempts to unseat the late Hugo Chavez during a failed coup in 2002.
“There’s no way Leopoldo Lopez can participate in killing and be freed,” said Carmen Quintero, dressed in a red Socialist party T-shirt with a group of relatives of government supporters killed in 2014.
Despite opposition outrage over the sentence, streets were calm as Venezuelans stirred on Friday. With inflation raging, shortages from antibiotics to meat, and a biting recession, many are simply consumed with day-to-day survival.
“I didn’t follow any of the trial,” said beautician apprentice Emily, 19, in a queue outside a supermarket. “I only have one roll of toilet paper at home. I arrived here at 3 a.m. This country is a complete disaster.”
Opposition politicians are seeking to channel such anger into votes in the Dec. 6 election, distancing themselves from the massive protests Lopez pushed for in 2014.
Some opposition moderates see Lopez as a hot-headed egotist who miscalculated when he called for the demonstrations, which led to several politicians’ arrests and failed to gain much traction beyond affluent areas.
“The only thing we have are votes,” said Angel Rojas, 32, a human resources manager. “We’re completely kidnapped on a judicial, political, social and economic front. 13 years, 9 months, 7 days, and 12 hours? It’s a complete disgrace.”