Opposition leader jailed in Venezuela

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Carlos Ortega, one of the top opposition leaders in Venezuela, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for inciting civil unrest during a strike.

Following a military coup d'etat in 2002, the two-month strike battered the country's oil industry in a effort to oust the elected president Hugo Chavez.

"From prison, I'll keep working, I'll keep fighting to preserve the freedom, democracy and unity of the people," said Mr Ortega in a telephone interview. "I'm no conspirator or coup plotter and I didn't betray my country."

While Ortega had initially fled Venezuela following the issuing of an arrest warrant in 2003, the BBC reports that he had returned to Venuzuela from Costa Rica last August. Mr Ortega was arrested in March 2005.

Supporters of Mr Ortega have claimed the verdict is 'politically motivated' according to BBC reports, with an appeal being planned.

Mr Ortega's opposition to current Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is well known. Chavez himself attempted (and failed) to carry out a military coup in 1992. Since then, Chavez was democratically elected president in 1998, 2000, and survived a recall referendum against him in 2004, and the constitutional reform referendum which he supported was supported by over 70% of the population in 1999.