CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro lambasted Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday and ordered a revision of bilateral ties over his call for an opponent of Maduro to be released from jail.
The conservative Rajoy met the wife of Venezuelan protest leader Leopoldo Lopez in Madrid this week, Tweeting a photo with an exhortation for him to be freed and protests allowed.
“I think you have made a mistake, Mr. Rajoy, ” the socialist Maduro thundered in a speech on state TV, accusing him of a patronizing attitude towards Spain’s former colonies.
“He thinks he’s a king, the owner of the Americas ... You respect Venezuela, Mr. Rajoy, as we respect the Spanish people ... You are creating a disaster in Spain.”
Lopez, 43, was jailed in February on charges of masterminding anti-Maduro protests that raged for three months, stirring violent clashes that killed 43 Venezuelans. Lopez’s trial is currently taking place.
“I have ordered the foreign minister (Rafael) Ramirez to review all relations with Spain due to this unfriendly and meddling act of support to the ultra-right groups who exercise violence in Venezuela,” Maduro added.
Supporters including his wife Lilian Tintori say Lopez is a scapegoat for protests borne out of frustration with a dictatorial government, failed economy, wasted oil revenues, and daily hardships from product shortages to soaring prices.
Authorities say he is a dangerous maverick directly responsible for killings and property damage during this year’s protests which they call a coup attempt against Maduro. They often remind Venezuelans of his role in a short-lived 2002 coup against former leader Hugo Chavez when Lopez helped arrest a minister and haul him away through a mob.
International clamor over Lopez’s case has been growing, with the top United Nations human rights official Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein also calling for his release this week.
Fluent in English and from a wealthy family, the U.S.-educated Lopez, an economist by training, leads a hardline political party, Popular Will, within the opposition coalition.
Additional reporting by Corina Pons; editing by Andrew Hay