Venezuelan opposition leader turns down prisoner swap idea: 'I will never leave my country'

Venezuela’s opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, jailed since early 2014, has an answer to President Nicolas Maduro’s offer to swap him for Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist held in a U.S. prison since 1980.

He is not interested.

“[The same offer] was brought up a year ago and I did not accept under any circumstances: he wants me to leave Venezuela. That will never happen,” he said in an interview with El Mercurio de Chile.

“However, the proposal is clear evidence of my political prisoner capacity, makes it clear that [Maduro] controls the entire judicial process against me,” he added.

López Rivera, 72, has spent 34 years in an Indiana jail for allegedly leading the clandestine radical pro-independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation – FALN.)

On Jan. 4, Maduro announced the unusual proposal in a televised meeting of advisors. Responding to critics who charged that the only way there would only be improved relations with the United States was if López was released from prison, Maduro said he would do so in a "man-for-man" exchange for Oscar López Rivera.

"The only way that I would use the presidential power I have to liberate the 'Monster of Ramo Verde' would be to put him on a plane headed to the United States, to leave him there, and have them bring me Oscar López Rivera. Hair for hair, man for man."

But even the Puerto Rican nationalist said it was not likely the U.S. would be interested in such a deal. “Leopoldo Lopez’s value is more jailed in Venezuela than [exiled] in the U.S.” he told El Nuevo Dia on Monday.

“I am guessing Maduro meant to say: ‘You have one, I have another, lets exchange them.’ But I am positive the U.S. is not going to respond. I am Puerto Rican and I am fighting for my homeland,” he told the paper.

Some observers see Maduro's offer as the logical result of the Obama administration's recent agreement with Venezuela's regional ally, Cuba, that freed an American contractor imprisoned on the island, three members of the "Cuban Five" spies who were being held in U.S. prisons, as well the unconfirmed releases of an American mole in Havana believed to be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo and 53 Cuban dissidents.

López, a Harvard-educated economist who was one of the leaders of the Voluntad Popular ("Popular Will") party in Venezuela, was arrested in February 2014 after helping to spark three months of violent demonstrations against Maduro's administration. Dozens of people died in the street violence, and thousands were arrested.

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