News / Americas

Venezuela's Lopez Eyes Prison as Political Springboard

FILE - Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez speaks during an interview in Caracas, Feb. 11, 2014.
FILE - Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez speaks during an interview in Caracas, Feb. 11, 2014.
Reuters
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has started down a well-worn path toward building a profile in this politically volatile country: defying the government and going to jail.
 
The Harvard-educated, former mayor of the Chacao district of Caracas revived an opposition movement that had stalled, kickstarting anti-government protests that have left at least six dead and landed him behind bars.
 
After initially accusing Lopez of murder and terrorism, authorities are now charging him on lesser counts of instigating arson, damage and criminal gatherings.
 
By arresting Lopez, the government had hoped to weaken the protest movement, but a stretch in prison may give Lopez some extra credibility with anti-government groups.
 
It certainly helped late socialist president Hugo Chavez, who served two years in jail for a failed 1992 coup, and it also helped opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was jailed for four months after being accused of being involved in a siege of the Cuban embassy in Caracas in 2002.
 
Lopez, who was barred from public office by a national comptroller's ruling after he was accused of corruption, has won support among hardliners who have said creeping authoritarianism by President Nicolas Maduro has made a democratic change of government impossible.
 
Lopez's imprisonment has also helped him overshadow Capriles, who months ago was the opposition's undisputed standard bearer.
 
Blue Blood
 
Exhuming the strategy of violent street protests, similar to those of a decade ago that failed to topple Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution, could ultimately lead the opposition down a blind alley.
 
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, dressed in white and holding up a flower stem, is taken into custody by Bolivarian National Guards, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2014.Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, dressed in white and holding up a flower stem, is taken into custody by Bolivarian National Guards, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2014.
x
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, dressed in white and holding up a flower stem, is taken into custody by Bolivarian National Guards, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2014.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, dressed in white and holding up a flower stem, is taken into custody by Bolivarian National Guards, in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2014.
“Today, more than ever, getting rid of this group of people that have kidnapped the future of Venezuelans is in your hands,” Lopez said in pre-recorded video released after his arrest widely reported, theatrical surrender to security forces in Caracas.
 
“Join me in the fight. I'll be fighting as well,” he said.
 
A slick and image-conscious scion of blue-blood families, Lopez studied in the United States at Kenyon College in central Ohio. He went on to earn a master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
 
After returning to Venezuela, he co-founded the political party Justice First, focusing on technocratic public policy in sharp contrast to Chavez's Cuba-inspired nationalism.
 
During two terms as mayor of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao, from 2000 to 2008, Lopez helped turn the district into an oasis of order in a country where everything from traffic lights to taxes can be seen as little more than suggestions.
 
Residents marveled that motorcyclists accustomed to riding  without helmets would don them before entering Chacao to avoid being fined.
 
While Chavez waxed lyrical for years about the teachings of 18th century founding father Simon Bolivar, who inspired his radical leftist project, Lopez quietly reminded Venezuelans that he was a direct descendant of Bolivar's sister.
 
In 2007, he married kite-surfing champion Lilian Tintori. She appeared alongside him in a pre-recorded video statement to Venezuela that was released after his arrest on Tuesday.
 
Lopez was one of the most visible figures of the efforts to unseat Chavez in 2002, which included street protests, a botched coup and a two-month oil industry shutdown.
 
During the coup, he helped organize the illegal arrest of one of Chavez's cabinet members, an incident frequently cited by critics as evidence that he has an authoritarian streak.
 
Lopez was present when police hauled the minister through a mob of angry protestors who beat him as he was ushered from a building into a waiting vehicle.
 
In 2002, his municipality hosted a demonstration by  military officers who defected and then declared the posh Plaza Altamira a “liberated zone”, where they staged a two-month rally calling for military intervention to oust Chavez.
 
In 2004, before a failed recall referendum against Chavez, Lopez helped lead nearly two weeks of street protests similar to the demonstrations of recent weeks in Caracas.
 
Those protests helped trigger accusations by the government that the opposition was a group of violent saboteurs. Moderates today question whether the opposition is making the same mistake with the current bout of protests.
 
Aspirations Cut Short

Lopez's competent administration had by 2008 put him on track to become metropolitan mayor of Caracas, a stepping stone to the presidency. But the national comptroller, an ally of Chavez, issued a ruling blocking him from holding office because of graft accusations for which he was never tried.
 
The action, widely seen as an effort to derail Lopez's political career, cemented his belief that Chavez, and later Maduro, were willing to bend laws and circumvent democracy to remain in power.
 
Known for being quick tempered and domineering, Lopez founded the Popular Will party after bickering with and then splitting from the leaders of his own Justice First party.
 
In 2012, Lopez ran in the opposition primaries to choose a presidential candidate, but he bowed out after a short time in support of Capriles over concern that the courts could prevent him from assuming office even if he won.
 
Lopez was furious with Capriles for calling off street protests in which nearly a dozen people died after Maduro's election victory last April. He insisted that Capriles would have won the presidency if the opposition had stayed on the streets fomenting accusations of fraud against Maduro.
 
FILE- Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Apr. 18, 2013.FILE- Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Apr. 18, 2013.
x
FILE- Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Apr. 18, 2013.
FILE- Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Apr. 18, 2013.
As Capriles retreated to his role of Miranda state governor, Lopez's demands for demonstrations began to strike a chord among frustrated opposition sympathizers who, despite not having a clear strategy, insisted “something must be done.”
 
When students in the western state of Tachira began sporadic marches in January to protest against widespread crime, Lopez launched a national street mobilization campaign under the banner “The Exit,” referring to ending Maduro's term in office.
 
“The right to take to the streets is in the constitution, and it is a historic right of the people,” Lopez said in a recent interview. “People have rebelled against systems of domination since the beginning of history.”

Related video report by Michael Bowman, "Protests Grip Venezuela"

Protests Grip Venezuelai
X
February 19, 2014 11:14 PM
Nearly one year after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, violent protests have erupted against his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the unrest is fed by deteriorating economic conditions and rampant lawlessness that cast fresh doubts on the viability of the socialist experiment Chavez launched in Venezuela more than 15 years ago.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Nicaragua Rescuers Save 20 Miners; Search Continues

Wall of mud, rocks trap miners at El Comal site in Bonanza, 420 kilometers northeast of Managua
More

Shortage-weary Venezuelans Scoff at Fingerprinting Plan

Proposal on food sales sparks backlash ranging from violent street protests to social media campaigns ridiculing the idea
More

Rescuers Contact 20 Miners Trapped in Nicaragua Gold Mine

Two miners have been rescued, others are believed to be alive
More

Brazil Enters Recession in Pre-election Blow to Rousseff

Experts say left-leaning policies have dented consumer and business confidence and caused heavy losses for financial investors
More

Peru Drug Bust Seizes Record 6.5 Tons of Cocaine

Police arrest 7 Peruvians, 2 Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle load to Europe as coal
More

New Brazil Poll Shows Silva Beating Rousseff in Runoff

Outcome seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago; would put an end to 12 years of Workers' Party rule
More