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Venezuelan Regime Sentences Democratic Opposition Leader to Nearly 14 Years in Prison

The Obama administration is being called on to be swift with the sanctions after Venezuela sentenced former Chacao mayor and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to nearly 14 years behind bars for protesting Nicholas Maduro's regime.

Havard-educated Lopez, 44, runs the Voluntad Popular party and enjoys a higher popularity rating than Maduro. He's widely viewed as one of the best hopes to oust the socialist regime in Venezuela.

One died and eight were injured outside court yesterday as Maduro's supporters attacked democracy activists.

“It is well known that the kangaroo court in Venezuela is biased and influenced by the Maduro regime so it’s not a surprise that this shameful verdict against Leopoldo occurred," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said late last night after the sentence was handed down. "Leopoldo should be free and the people of Venezuela deserve to live under a free society; not under this regime that continues to violate human rights at every turn."

"The malicious use of the judicial system as an instrument to punish and persecute dissent is only part of the problem with Maduro’s brutal regime that persists on ruling Venezuela with an iron fist," Ros-Lehtinen continued. "I call on all responsible nations to condemn this miscarriage of justice and call for Leopoldo’s immediate, unconditional release. In addition, the United States should apply sanctions immediately against the judges, prosecutors, and prison officials who were involved in this politically motivated sentencing.”

State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday that Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone to Venezuela's foreign minister Wednesday and "discussed the importance of keeping channels of communication open between the United States and Venezuela."

"The secretary reiterated our concern with the imprisonment of individuals under political pretenses, including Leopoldo Lopez, as well as the nature of Mr. Lopez's trial," Kirby said.

Kerry issued a statement late last night to gloat about Senate success in blocking the Iran nuke agreement disapproval. This afternoon, he finally issued a statement on Lopez.

"The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez," Kerry said. "The decision by the court raises great concern about the political nature of the judicial process and verdict, and the use of the Venezuelan judicial system to suppress and punish government critics."

Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, met with Kerry on Sept. 1 to plead for help for all Venezuelan political prisoners.

“The Obama administration has been flirting with rapprochement with the Venezuelan regime, and this decision should make clear it’s a foolish notion," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. "The Obama administration has been moving too slowly on applying sanctions on human rights violators in Venezuela, and now is the time to fully implement the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored that bill, said “the arbitrary and unjust sentencing" of Lopez "once again shows the Venezuelan government’s willingness to go to the most extreme lengths to silence its political opponents and those who stand in defense of democracy and human rights."

"Since its start, Leopoldo Lopez’s trial has been a travesty of justice in which fabricated claims and phony evidence were used to destroy any semblance of due process left in Venezuela," Menendez said. “As President Maduro and his political cronies resort to increasingly desperate tactics to divert attention from their failed political and economic model, the world must be unequivocal in its condemnation of the Lopez case and the accelerating deterioration of democracy and the rule of law in the country."

Menendez said he'll promptly “push for further targeted sanctions – as mandated under U.S. law - against Venezuelan government officials that have used the country’s legal system to punish free expression.”