Leopoldo López: Venezuela’s Leading Champion
No toilet paper. Little electricity. Hospitals overloaded with patients laying on the floor. This is the situation that bedevils Venezuela today, not long after the death of the tyrannical Hugo Chávez and the increasing state crackdowns by his successor. Before everything deteriorated though, when the government began to steal from Venezuelans and foreigners, while subverting the rights of their detractors, some foresaw the wrong that Chávez was creating and fomenting. The price at least one man is paying for this righteous defiance has been steep.
Leopoldo López, a popular mayor of Chacao, is currently serving a fourteen-year prison term for allegedly inciting riots and other trumped up charges after the death of Chávez. While he vehemently denied these charges, López turned himself over to the authorities, and a faulty conviction and sentence were handed down. This was likely the culmination of his prior attempts to undermine the government, from his supposed involvement to depose Chávez in 2002, up to his support of the anti-government protestors 2014. Human Rights Watch has decried the legal outcome and prison treatment of López, the United States government is disturbed by the baseless accusations and leaders from Spain and Latin American countries are attempting to secure his release. This is not what everyone wants though, as he has stirred controversy in some circles.
The background of López is not one of the typical freedom fighter or political protestor. He comes from a wealthy family with connections to the oil industry (which Venezuela has some of the largest reserves of in the world). He was educated in the United States at both Kenyon College and the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His work was that of an economist and he cofounded the center-right party Primero Justicia. As Chávez rose to power, López began to challenge the dictator’s reforms and began to gain a constituency with the beleaguered middle class during the early 2000s. This, and his alleged arrogance and showmanship has divided the ranks of the opposition, and puts some on edge, both within and outside of Venezuela.
Despite all of the accusations and the awkward lineage of López within the anti-government coalition, he brings a dedicated following and can reach segments of Venezuelan society that are marginalized by the Chavistas. As he stood trial, which was considered a sham, López had numerous followers waiting in hope that their leader would be found innocent of the charges. When he was convicted, the supporters were demoralized and saddened, but resolved to fight on. They won’t abandon their leader; one student according to the BBC in 2014 said, “If Leopoldo [Lopez] is attacked by the government, the people will defend him.”
With the defeat of the government in the recent election, optimism rises that López will be released. Still, he continues to be in a military prison outside of the capital of Caracas and has likely been mistreated with threats and solitary confinement. But López is still fighting, so that his countrymen may breathe free.
“Ex-Spanish PM meets with Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez” Fox News Latino
website, Jun. 7, 2016
“Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader, remains defiant” CNN website,
Sept. 11, 2015
“Leopoldo Lopez: Venezuela’s maverick opposition leader” BBC News website, Sept. 11, 2015.
“The Making of Leopoldo López: A closer look at the democratic bona fides of the rock star of
Venezuela’s opposition” Foreign Policy website, Jul. 27, 2015
“Venezuela’s triumphant opposition to free opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez” The Telegraph
website, Dec. 7, 2015