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The wives of jailed opposition politicians win Venezuelan votes

By Osmary Hernandez, Elwyn Lopez and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, the wife of jailed politician Daniel Ceballos, said that each ballot cast in her favor represented a sentence of justice and freedom and a blow against what she called the country's dictatorship.
Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, the wife of jailed politician Daniel Ceballos, said that each ballot cast in her favor represented a sentence of justice and freedom and a blow against what she called the country's dictatorship.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The local election victories are significant symbolic triumphs for Venezuela's opposition
  • Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos says the votes were sentences of justice and freedom
  • Her husband was arrested after authorities said he failed to stop anti-government protests
  • "The people will remain peacefully in the streets," Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano says

San Cristobal, Venezuela (CNN) -- The wives of two jailed Venezuelan opposition politicians have won landslide election victories while their husbands remain behind bars.

The votes Sunday in the cities of San Cristobal and San Diego were symbolic triumphs for the South American country's opposition, which has argued that the cities' former mayors were politically persecuted when authorities arrested them in March.

Daniel Ceballos was accused of civil rebellion and conspiracy after the government said he failed to stop violent protests in San Cristobal. He was given a 12-month sentence. San Cristobal is in the southwestern part of the country, near the border with Colombia.

Enzo Scarano was jailed for 10 months after the government accused him of ignoring an order given by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to stop protests in San Diego, a city near the coast and west of the capital of Caracas.

After winning more than 73% of votes in the mayoral election Sunday, Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos said that each ballot cast in her favor represented a sentence of justice and freedom and a blow against what she called the country's dictatorship.

"They have converted me into mayor and ratified Daniel Ceballos as mayor. And today, San Cristobal has the privilege of having two mayors governing its city," the 30-year-old engineer said.

When protests erupted against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government earlier this year, San Cristobal, capital of the border state of Tachira, quickly became a flashpoint, and Daniel Ceballos was an outspoken critic of Maduro.

Clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces have left more than 40 people dead and around 800 injured across the country since February, according to officials.

Maduro has said protesters are "fascists and extreme-right thugs" who are trying to destabilize the government to promote a coup. Protesters call Maduro a dictator who has ruined the Venezuelan economy with failed socialist policies.

Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano, formerly a City Council member in San Diego, won nearly 88% of votes in the mayoral election there Sunday, officials said.

After casting her ballot, she said her vote was a protest against the government's sentence of her husband.

"The people will remain peacefully in the streets, making people listen, so that it echoes throughout the world that Venezuela right now is going through a very difficult time, economically, socially, morally and politically," she told reporters.

One official from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela praised the San Diego election results.

Carabobo state Gov. Francisco Ameliach said the results signal that the government's election authority is impartial, the state-run AVN news agency reported.

Earlier this month, a State Department official pointed to the arrests of Ceballos and Scarano as signs that Maduro's government "continues to persecute political opponents."

"While dismantling the independent media and jailing local officials who dare to dissent, the Maduro government is simultaneously empowering armed civilian thugs, or 'colectivos' to intimidate and kill those Venezuelans who continue to march," Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said in a statement prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

CNN team denied permission to cover Venezuelan local elections

Opinion: The Venezuelan nightmare

Journalist Osmary Hernandez reported from San Cristobal, Venezuela. CNN's Elwyn Lopez and Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN's Claudia Dominguez also contributed to this report.

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