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Leopoldo López: Latin America’s Number One Enemy of the State

By: Elisa Vásquez - @elisavasquez88 - Nov 19, 2014, 11:49 am
Leopoldo López has spent more than nine months in prison over his alleged role in protests in February
Leopoldo López has spent more than nine months in prison over his alleged role in protests in February. (Prensa Leopoldo López)

EspañolAlthough still behind bars, Leopoldo López has been recognized as the most influential “challenger” in Latin America by Foreign Policy magazine. On Monday, the outlet launched its list of the 100 most influential thinkers in 2014, titled, “A World Disrupted.”

The magazine divided into 10 categories the 100 people or groups who in 2014 “smashed the world as we know it — for better and for worse.” It includes not only political leaders, but also ecologists, scientists, artists, activists, and terrorists, among others. “Disruption, clearly, is not always a bad thing,” notes the magazine in the ranking.

In the Challenger category, the editorial selected those 15 people who shook the world and led movements against powerful governments in search of better opportunities for their countries. “Although their goals and tactics may not have been universally lauded, these Global Thinkers were indefatigable,” states the magazine.

Protesters supporting López assemble outside the Palace of Justice every time the leader is brought to a hearing
Protesters supporting López assemble outside the Palace of Justice every time the leader is brought to a hearing. (Jorge Díaz / Prensa Leopoldo López)

Foreign Policy chose López for “upending the tactics of Venezuela’s loyal opposition.” Described as a “thorn in the side” of the Chavista government, he called for massive protests in early 2014 under the hashtag #LaSalida, in opposition to the historic inflation that plagues Venezuelans, high rates of violent crime, and scarcity of basic necessities.

Foreign Policy says of the Popular Will leader: “While many of [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro’s critics favor dialogue with the current government as Venezuela’s path forward, López’s more confrontational approach has resonated. According to a recent poll, his approval rating has risen above 49 percent. That makes him — even behind bars — the most popular figure in Venezuela’s long-splintered opposition.”

The list comes as the opposition leader has spent nine months in prison awaiting sentence, facing a ruling that has denied him any kind of defense.

Although the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has requested López’s release, the judge in charge of the chase, Susana Barreiros, rejected the request on November 13. The judge ruled the UN recommendation was an intrusion on Venezuelan sovereignty and not binding for Venezuelan judicial processes. This was despite the fact that the Working Group forms part of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, which operates under the purview of the UN General Assembly. Venezuela is a member of the General Assembly and recently secured a seat on the Security Council on October 14.

Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo López, has complained that neither she nor her children have been able to enter the Ramo Verde military prison to visit López for over a month.
Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo López, has complained that neither she nor her children have been able to enter the Ramo Verde military prison to visit López for over a month. (Jorge Díaz / Prensa Leopoldo López)

On Tuesday, López’s attorney, Roberto Marrero, indicated that the defense team has taken the UN resolution to the Venezuelan Court of Appeals, and said the government “has no option but to abide by the ruling.”

According to a statement from López’s party, his lawyer judges the Maduro regime to be studying how they can comply with the UN request. They say the resolution makes it impossible to keep the leader imprisoned “when the arbitrary nature of his detention and the systematic violation of his rights have been confirmed, and the struggle headed by the democratic leader has been defended by the international community.”

López’s Treatment in Prison

López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, has complained that in the weeks since October 8, his family have not been allowed to visit the detainee. In light of the arbitrary nature of his arrest, Tintori has argued that the Maduro regime has “kidnapped” her husband.

On November 16, a delegation from the International Socialist tried in vain to visit López. Chilean politicians José Antonio Viera Gallo and Claudio Herrera joined representatives of the organization to see “first hand” the conditions in which the Popular Will founder is kept.

“We have tried to establish, despite the fact that they haven’t allowed us to enter the prison compound, the situation of isolation in which Leopoldo López and the other prisoners find themselves,” Viera Gallo told the press.

A Straggling Latin America

Including López, nine of the global thinkers included in the ranking are from Latin America, in contrast to the overwhelming 28 that come from North America alone, the 31 from Europe, and 37 from Asia.

From Mexico, the magazine chose Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray among its group of Decision-makers for “re-energizing” his country through the historic reform which, after 76 years, has allowed the energy sector to receive foreign investment.

Also included in this category are Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Alamagro and President José Mujica, both highlighted for proving that “there’s always space for refugees.” Under their government, the country received 42 Syrian refugees and began a program to accept more of the 3 million people that have fled from the country. They plan to receive 78 additional refugees in early 2015.

Ruth Buendía, Peruvian activist and director of the Central Asháninka del Río Ene, took her place among the Naturals, or defenders of nature, for “saving a homeland by letting a river run” in opposing the construction of Peruvian and Brazilian hydroelectric plants.

Iris Yassmin Barrios also earned a place among the Activists. The judge, who sentenced in May 2013 the former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) to 80 years in prison for genocide, was later removed from her post in April this year for political reasons.

Gloria Amparo, Maritza Asprilla Cruz, and Mery Medina represented Colombia in the ranking. They featured among the Activists for their work in the Las Mariposas organization, which has helped more than 1,000 women victims of the Colombian conflict, or sexual violence, to recover and report their attackers. They have carried out their work despite threats from various violent groups in the region.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

Elisa Vásquez Elisa Vásquez

Elisa Vásquez is a Venezuelan journalist with experience covering social and community topics. Her specialty is human rights education and international solidarity. She reports from Panama City. Follow her on Twitter @elisavasquez88.