EspañolWednesday, February 18, marks one year since the Venezuelan authorities imprisoned Leopoldo López, opposition leader of the Popular Will (VP) party.
López is charged with crimes related to the protests that rocked the country between February and May 2014, and remains in solitary confinement in the Ramo Verde military prison. Also jailed for political reasons is Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of San Cristóbal, Táchira State, Daniel Ceballos.
López handed himself into the authorities following the issue of a public warrant for his arrest on February 12, 2014, in the wake of clashes at the Venezuelan attorney general’s office that left three dead and dozens wounded. Judicial hearings since then, according to his defense team, have been plagued with irregularities.
On Wednesday, his wife, Lilian Tintori, asked Venezuelans to dress in white to commemorate the situation facing López and the country since his emblematic arrest one year ago. Representatives from the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable and civil-society organizations gathered in Caracas’s plaza Brión, the location of López’s last public statement before turning himself in to the authorities.
Various public figures also showed their support for the peaceful demonstration called by Tintori, among then former Colombian and Chilean Presidents Andrés Pastrana and Sebastián Piñera, Venezuelan singer Ricardo Montaner, and governor of Miranda State and 2013 presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.
“With former President Andrés Pastrana, we’re joining the campaign for the freedom of Leopoldo López and other political prisoners.”
“All my support to a great Venezuelan, Leopoldo López, a brave man and faithful to his principles, one year since they imprisoned us all with you in Ramo Verde.”
“‘A prison is more dignified than begging the powerful, for this will be their punishment.’ Fuerza Leopoldo! A strong embrace. #FreeLeopoldo”
“Abuses” in Trial
One day after handing himself in, López was brought to a “Mobile Court” — a bus stationed outside the gates of the Ramo Verde prison — and charged with inciting violence, conspiracy, damage to property, and arson.
In June 2014, judge Adriana Lopez Orellana ruled the jailed VP leader would stand trial and confirmed his ongoing pretrial detention, which by that point had extended to some four months.
On September 10, an official inspection into the attorney general’s office found that no fire had taken place on February 12 as alleged, leading to the dismissal of this particular charge.
However, López still faces 142 items of evidence against him, with only one in his favor. His legal team claim that judges have admitted all of the prosecution’s evidence while rejecting almost all of that submitted by the defense.
On January 21, 2015, Leopoldo López’s lawyers reported that the prosecution had taken the principal evidence in his favor, transcripts and recordings of his public speeches, and incorporated it in a report by linguistic expert Rosa Amelia Asuaje claiming that the opposition leader’s speeches incited violence through subliminal messages.
January’s trial was held behind close doors, contrary to Venezuelan law, with several members of López’s family denied entry. On January 30, the judge expelled the father of the accused for trying to record the hearing.
On February 10, López’s defense complained that judges had banned international observers from attending the hearings. Defense attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez argued that restricting public access to the court violated the right to due process, and claimed that the trial was “completely invalid because of multiple abuses.”
On February 18, Venezuelan daily El Nacional published an exclusive video of López’s hearing, recorded with a hidden camera:
Lawyers and relatives of López and Ceballos have complained that the authorities have perpetrated a series of psychological and physical tortures against political prisoners.
On July 29, 2014, US human rights attorney Jared Genser reported that detainees had been subjected to arbitrary solitary confinement without sunlight for 23 hours a day over three months.
In October 2014, Tintori and Patricia Ceballos, the former mayor’s wife, claimed that prison officials had thrown bags of human excrement inside their cells.
On February 13, 2015, Tintori reported that a military commando unit forcibly entered her husband’s cell, using blowtorches and angle grinders to melt the bars, and subsequently ransacking its interior.
On Saturday, February 14, it emerged that that López had been sent to a punishment cell where he is to remain for 15 days.
Tintori has repeatedly alleged that López has been denied family visits. “In the 12 months Leopoldo has been imprisoned, they didn’t let us see him for six and a half months. The children were crying at the gate but the military wouldn’t let us pass,” Tintori told NTN24.
On Wednesday, February 18, Spain’s Popular Party (PP) and Socialist Worker Party (PSOE) called for Leopoldo López’s freedom through a formal statement in Congress. PP deputy Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo urged the Spanish government to take “all relevant initiatives” via the European Union and international organizations to obtain the immediate release of the opposition leader.
In September 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, also called for López’s release, a request reiterated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee against Torture.
In November of the same year, Amnesty International urged the government of Venezuela to comply with the UN’s multiple recommendations.
In December 2014, the European Parliament also called for Lopez’s release. European Union (EU) member state representatives backed a resolution on the “persecution of the democratic opposition in Venezuela,” urging the Venezuelan government to come into line with the UN rulings.
López also received the express support of former regional political leaders Sebastián Piñera, Felipe Calderón, and Andrés Pastrana.
On February 5, Irwin Cotler, a lawyer who was instrumental in the release of former South African President Nelson Mandela, announced his plans to join López’s defense team.
Translated by Michael Pelzer. Edited by Laurie Blair.
EspañolDear readers, you can't imagine how eager I was to talk to you. Unfortunately, the daily challenges I have to face in order to survive and live a free life in Cuba consume all my time and efforts. But here I am. However, instead of telling you about the reality of everyday life for the average Cuban, I ask you to help me answer a question. How is it possible that there are still governments in our continent that praise Cuba's political and social system, to the point of claiming it to be an example? Do Dilma Rousseff, Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and Daniel Ortega not know that Cubans survive mainly through the black market? That the islands's jails are packed with people whose only goal was to feed their children? How can these presidents be unaware that only those Cubans who agree with socialism's tenets enjoy freedom of speech? That only those who kneel before the regime can talk, while those who think differently are met with ostracism, repression, and imprisonment? How can they ignore that the average Cuban enjoys no freedom of association, to meet peacefully or organize even for the purpose of protecting their human rights? Is it possible that these unofficial ambassadors of the Cuban regime haven't noticed that our beautiful island is a one party state, where the communist cadre outlaws all other competitors and tramples on democratic freedoms? Have they somehow missed the mass defection of sportsmen and doctors, who abandon everything in search of a better, more dignified life abroad? Are they unaware that, unlike the ruling elite, Cuban fathers and mothers spend sleepless nights worrying over how they will feed their children the next day? How can they overlook the barbaric and inhuman laws that can land people in jail for no crime whatsoever? All you need is a court, policeman or Communist Party member to believe you are "likely" to commit an offence in the future. Tell me, dear reader! Do those regional leaders who sympathize with the Castro regime really not know all this? Or is the truth that they secretly dream of the same for their own countries? Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.