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Prime Minister of Spain highlights the EU's concern over jailing of Venezuelan opposition leader

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, meets with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, in Madrid on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, meets with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, in Madrid on Wednesday. (Courtesy: Voluntad Popular)

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, expressed his concern over the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and reiterated the concern of the European Union for Lopez's case and the need to respect freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully in Venezuela.

Rajoy made these assertions during a meeting with Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, in Madrid on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister of Spain was not only interested in the status of Lopez's case, who remains jailed in a military prison since February 18, but expressed deep concern about the general situation facing Venezuela, which is home to thousands of Spanish citizens.

On October 8, a Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations urged Nicolás Maduro's government to immediately release Lopez after determining that his detention was arbitrary and his human, civil and political rights had been violated by the Venezuelan government as López exercised his constitutional right to public expression and protest. The former mayor of San Cristóbal, Daniel Ceballos, who is also behind bars, received a similar measure from the UN.

On October 20, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, reiterated the obligation of the Venezuelan Government to abide by the UN opinion, especially with the new post that Venezuela now occupies in the United Nations Security Council, and demanded the immediate release of López and Ceballos and dozens of Venezuelan dissidents imprisoned for protesting.

However, on Wednesday, the Venezuelan government rejected the declaration of the high diplomat and stated that he had "exceeded himself in his mandate".

BOFA: Drop in oil prices can mean "serious risk" for Venezuelan economy

According to a report released this week Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BOFA), if the current decline in oil prices continues, Venezuela will face an even more difficult economic situation which will require "additional funding" amounting to approximately 12 billion dollars.

Last week the Venezuelan oil basket bottomed out at USD 77.65 per barrel, the lowest price recorded since the second week of November 2010. Venezuelan authorities have belittled the oil drop and promised that prices "will bounce back."

Oil accounts for about 95 per cent of Venezuelan export revenues and although Venezuela has the largest energy reserves in the world, its deteriorating economy has forced President Nicolás Maduro to slash imports to cover foreign debt payments amid a severe hard currency crunch that has already produced shortages of almost everything, from toilet paper to medical supplies.

The BOFA report warned that tumbling oil prices represent "a serious risk" for Venezuela. The institution estimated that oil prices might stabilize at USD 90 per barrel in 2015, instead of USD 95, as it had previously forecasted.

In that regard, the study warned that with each US dollar-decline in oil prices, the Venezuelan public sector loses USD 770 million in net income. The "worst case scenario" would be USD 80 per oil barrel.

Although the bank ruled out the Venezuelan government falling into default on foreign debt, other expert reports assert that a default is possible and even likely.

Venezuela continues to brush off the importance of the falling oil prices, while at the same time asking OPEC to convene an emergency meeting to address the issue, to no avail so far.

"We are convinced this is not due to market fundamentals, but to price manipulation to create economic problems among major oil producing countries," said Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela's foreign minister and the former head of state oil company PDVSA.

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