MADRID – Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has boosted calls for the European Union to draw up punitive sanctions against the government of Venezuela following the nighttime arrest of two opposition leaders amid increased political restiveness in the South American nation.
Speaking to press at the Foreign Ministry, Dastis called for the arrest of Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, two prominent Venezuelan government critics, to be reversed.
“The European Union has its own procedures and will draw up its own sanctions,” said Spain’s top diplomat when asked whether he thought the EU sanctions he proposed should mirror those implemented Monday by the United States.
Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular (“Popular Will”) party, were both serving sentences under house arrest when they were taken in the night by Venezuelan intelligence, known as Sebin, and moved to the Ramo Verde military prison.
Dastis discussed potential punitive measures to be selectively placed on those responsible not only for the arrest of Lopez and Ledezma, but also for the government-backed election on Sunday to appoint a National Constituent Assembly, which effectively has the power to change the constitution.
Dastis ruled out sweeping economic sanctions on the basis that it could negatively affect the wider Venezuelan population, urging the EU to instead mull over possible travel bans on those held responsible for the ongoing tumult.
On July 17, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made clear that the option of sanctions against Caracas was on the table if President Nicolas Maduro pressed ahead with plans to convene elections for a constituent assembly.
When those elections eventually went ahead on Sunday, Dastis struck up a fresh dialogue with Mogherini regarding restrictive measures on Maduro’s government.
Spain’s prime minster, Mariano Rajoy, reiterated his government’s calls to free the arrested Venezuelan politicians.
“Peace, democracy and freedom for political prisoners have to be unwavering. Spain is with the Venezuelan people,” Rajoy said on Twitter.
Venezuela is gripped by political instability and violent demonstrations amid opposition fears of a power grab.
Maduro and his government have denounced the massive protests as an attempted coup d’état.