Lilian Tintori: “Leopoldo Surrendered to Unmask Maduro”

Español Lilian Tintori is the wife of the most famous political prisoner in Latin America, Leopoldo López. But now the spotlight is on Tintori herself, as she tours every corner of the region to highlight the plight of her husband and other persecuted dissidents in Venezuela.

Tintori, a preschool teacher with over 1.5 million followers on Twitter, doesn’t hesitate to call out of the anti-democratic regime in Venezuela. Yet her optimism and calmness are striking: despite the calamities facing Venezuela, she says, the hope of change for the nation lies around the corner.

Tintori spoke with the PanAm Post after addressing a panel on human rights in Buenos Aires before a packed auditorium. She discussed her husband’s treatment during his sentence — 13 months and counting — in the Ramo Verde military prison on charges of inciting violence during 2014’s student-led protests, and shared their joint vision for Venezuela’s future.

“Good morning Venezuela, we’re not alone! Latin America is Venezuela, it’s democracy, it’s freedom!”

What’s Leopoldo López’s current legal status?

Leopoldo López has been imprisoned in a military prison for one year and a month. Leopoldo is innocent, he shouldn’t remain as a prisoner for another day. He is imprisoned because of his words, because of what he thinks, for daring to say what the majority of Venezuelans wanted to hear.

He denounced Maduro’s regime as undemocratic, corrupt, inefficient, and repressive. Those words are now more alive than ever.

They are conducting a trial against Leopoldo, but it is full of corruption, arbitrariness, and illegality. First, because it is an oral and public trial, but no one is allowed to enter. The Court is surrounded by the military and nobody who wants to hear the trial can enter, neither journalists nor cameras.

Second, and more importantly, is that to defend yourself, you need evidence and witnesses. Leopoldo has not been allowed to present any evidence or witness to defend himself. But the prosecution has been allowed to hear more than 160 witnesses.

We’ve witnessed a completely unfair trial. Even many of the witnesses for the prosecution don’t blame Leopoldo for anything. That means there is no case. There is no evidence or witness that has verified Leopoldo is linked to any act of violence that occurred last year.

Do you have any hope for a favorable judgment for your husband?

Well, Leopoldo has to be released now. They have to free Leopoldo every day. I wake up every day and say, “They will release him today.” He’s in prison for political reasons; he represents a change for Venezuela, he represents a threat for [President Nicolás] Maduro, and Maduro is afraid of Leopoldo. He’s a prisoner of conscience.

We’re spreading the world nationally and internationally, so that the whole world knows the arguments and the truth. And that Leopoldo and all the students must be released.

How is Leopoldo treated in prison?

The treatment has been horrible: his fundamental rights are violated; they threaten to transfer him to another highly dangerous jail; men dressed in black with guns enter his cell by force and destroy it; they break his possessions and steal his notes.

What’s more, they throw human excrement and urine through the window so that he can’t sleep. They also cut the electricity and water so he can’t shower or clean up the mess in his cell.

They punish him by putting him in tiny cells called tigritos, where he can’t see the sunlight for weeks. They take away his most important visitations, from his family. He’s been alone and without visitors for six and a half months.

Whenever they want, they stop me from going in. Leopoldo is imprisoned, but we are as well, as a family. Our rights are imprisoned. The treatment towards him has been inhumane — a torture, degrading.

Leopoldo is strong, he is firm, and all these things only make him stronger. He’s convinced that change is coming and that we will succeed. As he said before giving himself up to police: he swears we are going to win.

After a year of imprisonment, do you still think he made the right choice in turning himself in?

Look, it’s very hard for me to answer that, because I want Leopoldo to be free, and have him home with me and my children. But sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the nation.

When I married Leopoldo I married that vision, that love for Venezuela. I’m committed not only to fighting for Leopoldo’s freedom, but for all political prisoners in my country, and the rescue of our human rights.

Is the international community shifting towards greater support of human rights in Venezuela?

Yes, I see progress and there’s more to come. Latin America is waking up; it has to. Colombia has already taken a stance, Peru, and now Argentina. Parliaments have lent their support. But it’s not only the government that represents the voices of the people, but also its public figures and civil-society organizations.

Venezuela is nearing a humanitarian crisis. It’s already facing social, economic, and political crisis. You can’t get basic foods in Venezuela, medicine, milk for our children. The cost of living is too high, and there is widespread fear [over gang violence]: every 20 minutes a Venezuelan is killed.

Faced with this situation, Latin America has to react, because we’re brother nations. I trust with faith and resilience that this will happen in the coming weeks and months.

Coming to Argentina, did you hold any hopes of meeting with President Cristina Kirchner, who calls herself a defender of human rights?

Yes, one never loses hope. I’m still hopeful that she will receive us and listen to what we have to say. We come here as mothers, wives, [and] victims.

We come as Venezuelan women representing millions, and I think its governments’ responsibility to hear out victims of repression, unfair imprisonment, and anti-democratic regimes like the one currently in power in Venezuela.

Do you still think the way out for Venezuela will be peaceful, despite the violence coming from the government?

Absolutely, the way out will always be peaceful, constitutional, and through elections. Leopoldo has said so several times in his speeches and political platforms.

The rule of law is not just weak in Venezuela, it doesn’t exist. The state’s powers have been co-opted and held hostage by a single person, Maduro. There is no justice, no laws, they don’t respect the Constitution and there’s an impunity rate of 97 percent in human-rights complaints.

Today the whole world knows that Maduro violates human rights and leads an anti-democratic regime. That’s why Leopoldo turned himself in: to unmask Maduro.

Jorge Sturzenegger contributed to this article.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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