Paying attention to an activist behind bars
One day after U.S. President Donald Trump called for his release, The Venezuelan Supreme Court decided to uphold Leopoldo Lopez’s fourteen-year prison sentence.
For those of you who have never heard of him, Leopoldo Lopez is currently being held in a Caracas jail for crimes that he didn’t commit.
As a founding member of Venezuela’s strongest opposition party, the father of two continues to be a vocal advocate against the totalitarian nature of the ruling Chavistas.
He first made his way onto the political scene in 1992 when he cofounded the Justice First civil association. At the time, activists like Lopez were concerned with the blatant deterioration of Venezuela’s judicial system under the rule of then-president Carlos Andres Perez.
For those who are not aware, Perez ordered the Venezuelan military to shoot at crowds of protestors in 1989 as a means of purging his opposition.
His actions resulted in the deaths of an estimated 2,000 people and was the inspiration for two violent, yet unsuccessful, coups led by Colonel Hugo Chavez and his indoctrinated supporters.
Lopez’s first political victory came in the year 2000 when he was elected mayor of Chacao, a municipal district located inside the capital city of Caracas. He spent his first term investing in public infrastructure, opening sporting facilities and building schools.
In addition to this, he would continue to be an avid critic of the Venezuelan government, now under control of Hugo Chavez.
His efforts came at the dismay of the Chavez administration, who barred Lopez from retaining political office in 2006, following the end of his second term as mayor.
The Chavez regime cited allegations of corruption and nepotism on the part of Leopoldo Lopez, but a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined these charges to be completely fabricated.
Lopez then decided to launch a presidential bid in 2011, even though the Chavez administration refused to accept the international court’s ruling.
Though he would eventually back out of the next presidential race in 2012 to support his political ally, Henrique Capriles, Lopez was now one of Venezuela’s most popular politicians and continued working tirelessly to build support for Venezuela’s opposition movement.
His advocacy efforts would climax in 2014, when a series of protests and political demonstrations began in response to the country’s high levels of urban violence, inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods.
Lopez used this as an opportunity to call on citizens to peacefully protest the late Chavez’s presidential successor, Nicolas Maduro.
The Maduro administration responded by violently suppressing the protests, illegally arresting protestors and encouraging his own followers to torture participants.
These efforts did little to deter the protestors, so Maduro decided to issue a warrant for Lopez’s arrest. The vague charges included conspiracy and terrorism.
It was at this moment when Leopoldo Lopez revealed to the world his love for his home country. The inspirational leader refused to flee and decided to turn himself in with thousands of protestors at his side.
Lopez was tried and convicted in a judicial process that many people claim to be a farce.
He is said to be living in inhumane conditions and has since been barred access to his lawyers and his family. It was only in the last week he was able to see his wife at all.
Lopez’s safety can’t be guaranteed under these conditions. His wife, Lilian Tintori, continues to advocate for his release, but the Maduro administration refuses to take her seriously.
Lopez sought to enlighten the international community to the atrocities being committed in Venezuela. Now more than ever, the international community needs to come together to recognize Leopoldo for the hero that he is.