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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Brazil to Use Drones to Fight Slave Labor in Rural Areas

Inspectors, who investigate properties suspected of employing workers in slave-like conditions, will use 6 drones with cameras to monitor suspicious activities
More

Colombia Struggles to Find Its Missing as Peace Talks Progress

At least 52,000 war victims are missing; rights groups, families of disappeared hope FARC will reveal grave locations as part of peace settlement
More

Bolivia Tripling Size of its Subway in the Sky

Booming country is tripling size of the network and will soon have nine lines whizzing above the administrative capital of La Paz
More

Venezuelan President Asks for UN Mediation in Guyana Border Dispute

Controversy centers on land to the west of Guyana's Essequibo River, encompassing around two-thirds of the English-speaking Latin American nation
More

El Salvador Bus Drivers Strike as Gang Violence Surges

Drivers demanding better security in wake of escalating attacks, leaving thousands of commuters stranded on streets of Central American capital
More

Brazil's Biggest Party Sticks With Unpopular Rousseff - For Now

Rousseff struggling to save her presidency amid worst economic downturn in 25 years and political crisis set off by massive kickback scandal at state-run Petrobras
More