Brazil's ex-President Cardoso to defend jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will form part of a team defending two jailed opposition leaders in Venezuela.

Cardoso, a former university sociologist who was exiled during Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, said he accepted an invitation by Spain's former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to advise the legal team defending Leopoldo Lopez and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

Both politicians led anti-government protests last year that were blamed for 43 deaths. Lopez is on trial for allegedly inciting violence while Ledezma was removed from office and jailed last month for allegedly conspiring against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

The gesture is largely symbolic as neither Cardoso nor Gonzalez is authorized to practice law in Venezuela. But their support for the opposition leaders is bound to irritate Maduro, who is under increasing pressure from the U.S.

In recent days, state television has run segments accusing Gonzalez of being a CIA spy and Maduro last week said the Spaniard was supporting a coup against him.

Cardoso said that he's prepared to travel to Venezuela to examine the situation. He also criticized Brazil and other regional governments for not doing more to hold Maduro's government accountable for human rights violations.

"Concerns about democracy need to be back on the front burner across the region, and especially in Venezuela," Cardoso, who governed Brazil from 1995 to 2003, told Colombia's Blu Radio.

Governments in the region have largely been silent about Maduro's crackdown on the opposition, preferring to urge the two sides to embark on dialogue. In recent days they've also rallied behind Maduro in condemning the Obama administration's decision to sanction seven senior officials for abuses allegedly committed during last year's unrest.

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