Saturday, July 8, Leopoldo López was released from prison and placed under house arrest after being imprisoned for over three years. Leopoldo López is a Venezuelan politician that founded a political party named Voluntad Popular and co-founded the political party Primero Justicia. He also was the mayor of Chacao from 2000 up to Dec. of 2008.
The Harvard graduate was arrested Sep. 2015 and sentenced to thirteen years after being accused of inciting violent protests. This occurred as a result of the rise of the protests and political demonstrations that arose in 2014 after the country started experiencing high levels of violence, inflation, and food shortages. Many human rights advocates considered his arrest to be unfair as evidence was not concrete while prosecutors claimed that Lopez used subliminal messages to invoke violence.
Leopoldo was part of the opposition activists that were protesting against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which many blame for the country’s misfortune. López’s role in the protests started with his wish to aid the students that were affected by the inflation. Students were the first to protest and were soon backed up by figures within the Table for Democratic Unity –the umbrella opposition group. Leopoldo López was one of the main leaders of this movement.
Protesters suffer excessive abuse of power by the hands of riot police. Many protesters are harmed during these rallies as they are blasted with water cannons, shot with rubber bullets, and face other more violent measures. Both officers and protesters have died during these rallies. Furthermore, the killings of students have caused outraged among the Venezuelan public.
According to the New York Times, “Since early April, more than 90 people have been killed, more than 1,500 injured and more than 3,000 detained in the context of demonstrations.”
López’s release from prison was called a humanitarian gesture by Venezuelan authorities. They based themselves off of López’s allegedly poor health. His supporters, however, celebrated his release as a capitulation by the embattled government.
There were concerns of his safety as he did had not made any appearances until the day he was transferred home. He made an appearance waving a Venezuelan flag reassuring the crowd awaiting outside of his home.
Leopoldo López’s lawyer in Spain, Javier Cremades, spoke out on the situation saying, “It is a gesture of weakness of the Maduro regime and of the opposition’s strength,” adding on Cremades said, “It is a step forward, and very positive news.”
Throughout the trial, his wife, Lilian Tintori, spoke out in support of her husband. She campaigned around Venezuela as well as abroad trying to gain her husband’s freedom. Lopez became a symbol for the opposition. His face was printed into shirts that called out for him to be freed. Tintori also meet with President Donald Trump, who ordered that Lopez should be released at once.
Leopoldo López voted on the poll that took place on Sunday, July 16; the poll was placed to vote against Maduro’s attempt to change the constitution. Lopez appeared in a video showing his participation in the poll but could not show his face due to the terms of his house arrest.
Although, the regime said they wouldn’t recognize Sunday’s vote, it is estimated 150,000 people turned out in polls in South Florida. There were also polls set up in various different countries were Venezuelans reside. Overall, 7 million Venezuelans turned out to vote.
With Maduro’s wish to dissolve state institutions, the power would fully reside with him. He also refuses to acknowledge the power of the National Assembly, which is the legislative branch of Venezuelan government. Many fear that Maduro’s government seems to progressively resemble that of a dictatorship.
Leopoldo López’s release brings hope to many, however, he is not completely free and there are also various other opposition leaders that have been arrested who have not been freed and are also in house arrest like himself or in jail.
“Venezuela has more than 400 political prisoners, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to detainees. More than 350 civilians have been prosecuted by military courts — a practice of the Latin American dictatorships of the ’70s that violates both Venezuelan and international law,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco of the New York Times.
The people of Venezuela will continue their fight to secure Venezuela’s democracy for the freedom of all those who have been deprived of their rights, as Leopoldo López has, as well as their own freedoms.