Venezuela is reviewing its ties with Spain after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on the Caracas government to free Leopoldo Lopez, the outspoken opposition activist who has been imprisoned since February. Venezuela accused Rajoy of “interfering” in domestic affairs, and recalled its ambassador to Spain for consultations this week.
The angry reaction came after Rajoy visited with Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, last week and tweeted a photo with her, along with a call for Caracas to free the jailed activist. “[Lopez’s] freedom and right to protest are necessary,” his tweet read.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro slammed Rajoy over the comment on Friday, saying Rajoy “thinks he’s a king” and accusing him of “creating a disaster in Spain.” He then ordered Venezuela’s foreign minister to review bilateral ties with Spain. Spanish oil firm Repsol and telecommunications company Telefonica both operate in Venezuela, but Maduro did not offer any hints about what the revised ties might look like.
Venezuelan-Spanish relations were previously ruffled in an infamous 2007 incident where Spain's King Juan Carlos asked President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" during a regional summit. Chavez demanded an apology and threatened to cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Spain but ultimately refrained.
The ongoing imprisonment of Lopez has been a touchy political subject in Venezuela since the activist was jailed in February at the height of mass antigovernment protests. Tintori and other members of the Venezuelan opposition say the government is cracking down on voices of dissent while trying to distract the public from the domestic problems that spurred the protests to begin with, including soaring inflation and prevalent crime. Maduro’s government has accused Lopez of trying to incite violence during the spring street protests and plotting to destabilize the administration.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Human Rights Council called for Lopez’s immediate release. Lopez refused to attend his hearing appointment on Tuesday in an attempt to pressure Caracas to adhere to the U.N.’s request.