CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s foreign ministry has accused a group of Brazilian senators of seeking to destabilize the country during a brief visit on Thursday and denied their safety was under threat.
Brazilian opposition senators said their minibus was stoned and blocked as they attempted to drive from the coastal airport to Caracas and then to visit opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is being held in a military jail.
“A group of Brazilian senators ... arrived in the country with the sole purpose of destabilizing Venezuela’s democracy and generating confusion between brother nations,” the ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
It said the senators’ complaints that the government tried to prevent landing permission for their plane, blocked the highway leading to Caracas and allowed demonstrators to threaten their physical safety were “three great lies”.
The ministry said the senators had interacted with “political activists who were carrying out their own actions”.
The senators said their vehicle had come under siege by protesters who hurled stones and pummeled the van, forcing them to return to the airport.
Lopez, 44, who has been on a partial hunger strike for 25 days, was accused last year of stirring up violence around anti-government protests that killed more than 40 people on both sides of the political divide.
President Nicolas Maduro calls him a common criminal, but critics of the government describe him as a political prisoner.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday condemned the incident and said it would go through diplomatic channels to seek an explanation.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party have faced criticism for maintaining close ties to Maduro.
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Kevin Liffey