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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Mexican Leader Announces Nationwide Crime Crackdown

Announcement comes as 11 mutilated bodies found in violence-racked Guerrero state
More

Soccer Icon Pele Moved to Special Care Unit

Legendary soccer player's personal aide says Pele, who is suffering a urinary tract infection, is 'completely fine,' move was primarily to protect his privacy
More

Venezuela’s Military Introduces Hugo Chavez Course

Fans say it promotes late leader’s humanist values; critics deride it as deification
More

Video Talks on New UN Climate Treaty Set Next Week in Peru

Representatives from 200 countries will discuss emissions reductions, setting stage for broader talks in 2015
More

Colombia's FARC Free Two Soldiers to Restart Talks

Troops taken captive in restive eastern department of Arauca in November 9 military operation freed with help of ICRC
More

FARC Leader Faults Colombia's Suspension of Peace Talks

Guerrilla chief Rodrigo Londono says government's action violates terms of agreement that brought rebels to negotiating table
More