Movies usually show that prisoners, during their conviction, count the days they have been in jail with stripes, circles, or squares on a booklet, a calendar on the wall, or on the wall itself. But the reality of life in prison, deprived of a fundamental right like freedom, can only be transmitted by those actually behind bars.
According to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, an NGO that monitors human rights inside Venezuela’s prisons, the Maduro administration currently holds 74 political prisoners — 10 under house arrest and 31 in jail for demonstrating against the government.
On September 10, 2015, Judge Susana Barreiros read out the conviction of one of these political prisoners, opposition leader and founder of the Popular Will Party, Leopoldo López, on charges of arson, public incitement, damage to public property, and conspiracy. The sentence: 13 years, 9 months, 7 days, and 12 hours.
A Conviction Rejected the World Over
According to Amnesty International, prisoners of conscience are “those imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion or political views. It also refers to those who have been imprisoned and/or persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.”
Amnesty International declared Leopoldo López a prisoner of conscience because he was sentenced for his words, for dissenting against those governing the political destinies of the country.
His conviction caused outrage within and outside the borders of Venezuela. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International director for the Americas said:
Leopoldo López’s charges were never adequately substantiated and the conviction against him has a clear political motivation. His only crime is being a leader of an opposition party in Venezuela … [He] never should have been arbitrarily arrested or prosecuted and should be released immediately and unconditionally.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The trial was marked by serious violations of due process, and no evidence linking the accused were provided with any crime.”
The Precious Value of Time
But aside from those expressing their rejection towards the sentence of López — as they recommend, request, and demand his release — it is likely that only he and his family have literally sized the dimensions of his sentence. Perhaps because nobody believes he will ever get to serve it. Or maybe it is because the days pass quickly, and everyone else is suffering his own afflictions and closures.
Those who are optimistic about the time that Leopoldo López will spend in prison allude to the current majority of the opposition representation in the National Assembly, and the likelihood that they may enact an amnesty law to release political prisoners. His wife, Lilian Tintori, is campaigning to free political prisoners before Christmas. But the truth be told, until this law is promulgated and approved, there are only damning numbers, which include years, months, days, and even hours.
Article 40 of the Venezuelan Criminal Procedure Organic Code stipulates that “convictions to terms of imprisonment, shall be counted in favor of the defendant, detention elapsed after five months made at the rate of one day of detention for one day in prison…”
Judging from that article, since July 18, 2014 (he was arrested on February 18 that year), until September 10, 2015 (his conviction), there are 419 days to be subtracted from his conviction, because those are days that he has already spent in prison.
This would mean that Leopoldo López is set to be released on April 24, 2028.
By then, Manuela, his eldest daughter, will be 19 years-old and will probably be in college. Her father will not have attended any of her school performances, or her First Communion, or her bachelors-degree ceremony.
His younger son, Leopoldo Santiago, currently two years old, will be a teenager of 16. He might be attending his junior year at high school, and his father will not have been able to teach him how to swim, nor accompany him to a baseball or soccer game. He will have not witnessed the moment his son received a medal or a trophy.
Christmases, New Years, anniversaries, and family stories will have been smiled at, mourned, or narrated retrospectively within the boundaries of the courtyard or in the small jail at the military prison of Ramo Verde.
On April 24, 2028, Leopoldo López will be five days short of 57, and will be “lucky enough” to get home 11 days before the 50th birthday of his wife and human-rights activist, Lilian Tintori. Fifty years is an emblematic age, because it is the moment to make a balance of what you have accomplished and to reflect of being in the final half of the average life; a life, or rather, four lives, which inevitably, will have been drained behind bars.
Marcela Albahari Nielsen is a Venezuelan journalist. She holds a degree in creative writing and advocates for human rights. Follow @marcelalbahari.