Happy Birthday, Leopoldo Lopez, Jailed Harvard Grad Who "Inspired Violence"
Today, April 29, 2017 is Leopoldo's 46th birthday, and the fourth that he spends in Caracas's Ramo Verde military prison - a "Cuban-style" prison infamous for its unorthodox physical and psychological torture.
Leopoldo, a 1996 Harvard graduate and a former Venezuelan presidential contender, is one of Maduro's toughest and most confrontational opponents. Lopez has been in jail since 2014, serving a 14 year sentence for using "subliminal messages to inspire violence."
Today, his family brought him a cake decorated as a Venezuelan flag. His family and attorneys have not been allowed to see him for over a month - he is said to be in solitary confinement. His wife, activist Lilian Tintori, his mother and two kids sang Happy Birthday at the prison gate, hoping that he can somehow hear them.
CHARGED FOR SUBLIMINAL MESSAGES
Amnesty International, the U.S. Govt (both Obama & Trump), The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and an endless list of human rights organizations have expressed solidarity to Lopez and called his circumstance a travesty and an egregious violation of one of the basic principles of due process. (Human Rights Watch Report)
The Venezuelan government acknowledges López wasn’t even physically present on Feb. 12, 2014, where the alleged arson and property damage occurred and where Venezuelan security forces opened fire on a few dozen people, killing three.
The government claims that López used “subliminal messages” to inspire people to violence. This isn’t just some bizarre claim; President Nicolas Maduro on national television said of López: “He has … quite a crazy messianic vision … that … alienates and poisons people, making them crazy.” Lopez’s speech prior to the protest on Feb. 12, 2014, explicitly urged non-violence.
BBC HARDTalk's Ian O’ Reilly went to Venezuela, interviewed Leopoldo's mother, but was detained for 28 hours and deported on the grounds that he was spying. O'Reilly was merely standing outside of Ramo Verde prison, where Leopoldo is detained. Watch below.
Leopoldo called for peaceful anti-government protests in February 2014. The turn-out was more than 10,000 people, mostly students. The government’s response - police and national-guard riot squads, batons and tear gas (The Economist). Officers of Sebin, the state-security service, and plainclothes gunmen fired live rounds. Dozens of detainees sustained beatings, electric-shock torture and death threats. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds injured. Journalists were beaten and detained, their equipment destroyed.
Foreign Policy reports: “López wasn’t even physically present on Feb. 12, 2014” where the alleged arson and property damage unfolded.
Leopoldo turned himself into authorities in front of thousands of supporters on February 17, 2014: "If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice," he shouted through a megaphone from atop a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in a Caracas plaza the day he was arrested.
ABOUT LEOPOLDO - MAYOR OF CHACAO
Lopez was elected mayor of Caracas's Chacao district, a position he held from 2000 to 2008 - ending with a 92% approval rating. During his mayoralty, López won first-prize awards from Transparency International in both 2007 and 2008 for running the country’s most honest and efficient municipal administration. In 2008, he won third place in the World Mayors contest which nominates the "world's most outstanding mayors."
He was barred from running for re-election in the 2008 polls for allegedly misusing public funds - the government considered him a threat, but he did not retire from public life.
The City Mayors Foundation, which sponsors the contest, wrote that “It would be easy to caricature him as the scion of the country’s wealthy elite, standing in the way of Chávez’ social justice crusade. But López’ record on activism has shown a commitment to promoting legal equality and his constituents speak passionately about a mayor who has delivered on public services and funding new infrastructure.”
Lopez comes from a prominent family in Caracas. He spent some of his formative years in the United States, studying economics at Kenyon College in Ohio and receiving a Master's degree at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
LEOPOLDO'S CRITICS AND MY OPINION
Some say Leopoldo is too radical. After all, he did at one point tweet at President Maduro something along the lines of "Arrest me, you coward." Some say he is arrogant and too competitive and that causes him to lose focus.
Some say he went to far to tell his followers to go to the street to protest - but that is our constitutional right in Venezuela. He always sends a message of peace. He never encourages Venezuelans to get violent.
His actions have given a lot of Venezuelan people courage to go back out there on the streets to protest. I know he gives me hope. Leopoldo could easily be in the U.S., like me, living a comfortable life, buying Gatorade at Walgreen's but he's not - he's in jail because he believes that will have a positive impact for the greater public.
Our country is in shambles. In my opinion, you have to be crazy not to have radical thoughts and actions at this point. With 1,000% inflation, we are literally out of power, food and medicine - that means that one can of baby formula costs two months average salary.
For more information on Leopoldo López and how to help, visit www.freeleopoldo.com
Leopoldo's Op-Ed Pieces: