Americas

Dangerous case of Leopoldo López

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Leopold López is awaiting trial in a military prison in Caracas on charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations.
VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Leopold López is awaiting trial in a military prison in Caracas on charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations. AP

He spends his days mostly in solitude in Ramo Verde military prison, southwest of Caracas, cut off from the outside world. Leopoldo López, a leading face of the Venezuelan opposition, is also sometimes deprived of natural light by not being allowed out of his cell.

In Ramo Verde, the 43-year-old López is awaiting a public hearing on the charges against him that cite violence, damage to property, arson and conspiracy.

The charges are widely believed to be trumped up, created by President Nicolás Maduro’s regime in an attempt to scuttle López’s political career.

Many of his supporters and family members are certain that López will be sentenced to a long prison term.

“Of course, I am afraid that Leopoldo is gonna spend years in jail,” his cousin, Thor Halvorssen, said in an interview from Oslo, Norway where hundreds of dissidents and human rights advocates recently gathered for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum.

Halvorssen has no doubt that López, with whom he grew up in Venezuela, is the prime target of the Maduro regime.

“He has a dangerous idea and this very dangerous idea is that the government needs to resign,” he said. “He is a threat to them.”

López, on number of occasions, faulted the government for inflation, chronic shortage of basic food, rampant crime and widespread corruption. He also accused the government of being involved in drug trafficking.

Halvorssen’s harsh critique of the regime does not spare the Venezuelan opposition, either. He charges that the opposition is financed by the same bankers who do business with the government.

Despite the proclamations about unity, the Venezuelan opposition remains very much fractured and the trust between its two main leaders — López and Henrique Capriles — appear to be severely damaged given the corruption allegations.

Halvorssen believes that Capriles, who lost the last presidential election to Maduro, is no opposition politician but an extension of the government.

“I yearned for Capriles when I met him in prison. But that young man who was willing to go to prison for his beliefs is gone and replaced by the man who is responding to economic interests,” Halvorssen said. “If they had a private conversation Leopoldo would ask him: “why did you sell out?”

Not everyone sares Halvorssen views about Capriles.

“Leopoldo got arrested because, unlike Henrique who calls for collaboration with the government, he opted for the confrontation with the government right on the streets,” said Jesus Maria, a Venezuelan constitutional professor teaching in Guatemala City.

Maria closely worked with another opposition political leader currently on the government black list — Marina Corina Machado, former member of the National Assembly.

“I am afraid she could end up just like Leopoldo because she also speaks forcefully against the government,” he said. “The Maduro regime intimidates her almost on a daily basis.”

Leopoldo López was arrested when he voluntarily turned himself in on February 18 after several days in hiding. Maduro accused him of various crimes, including terrorism and homicide. He also regularly called López a “fascist“ and “The Throne.”

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