January 25, 2015 / 5:58 PM / in 3 years

Latam ex presidents blocked from prison visit to Venezuela's Lopez

Lilian Tintori (C), wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, and former presidents Sebastian Pinera (R) from Chile and Andres Pastrana (L) from Colombia are stop by national guards outside military prison of Ramo Verde outside Caracas January 25, 2015.Jorge Silva

CARACAS (Reuters) - Two former Latin American presidents were blocked on Sunday from visiting jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested last year after leading protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Former presidents Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Andres Pastrana of Colombia, both conservatives who were U.S. allies, were denied access to the prison where Lopez is being held. They told reporters that the decision to refuse their visit was a sign of limitations on human rights in Venezuela.

"Leopoldo Lopez is a politician, one can disagree with his ideas but that does not provide the right to deprive him of his freedom," said Pinera at the entrance to the Ramo Verde military prison.

Lopez is charged with inciting crime and being the intellectual author of damages and arson at the start of three months of anti-government protests that began last February and ultimately left 43 people dead.

Maduro on Friday said the former presidents' visit was part of an effort to support right-wing extremists that are seeking to destabilize his government.

He calls Lopez a criminal who masterminded months of violent protests and has dismissed calls for his release.

Opposition leaders call Lopez a political prisoner who was simply exercising the right to protest. The United States government and the United Nations have called for his release.

Reporting by Liamar Ramos, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Stephen Powell

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