Leopoldo Lopez, once mayor of the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao [the wealthiest of Caracas’ five municipalities], made international headlines in 2014, portrayed as one of the chief figures of the more radical section of Venezuela’s opposition. Because his efforts in calling for, planning and then promoting violent blockades in the country – violence which claimed the lives of 43 people, injuring hundreds, and causing billions in damage to public buildings and infrastructure – Lopez was arrested and awaiting trial.
Leopoldo Lopez comes from a long line of the political class in Venezuela. Among his various family members who held high offices, his grandfather was a former secretary of agriculture for two years during the 1940s and he is also the great-great-great-grandson of the country's first president, Cristobal Mendoza. Lopez studied in private and Ivy League schools in the United States.
While studying in the U.S., Lopez co-founded Primero Justicia (Justice First) in 1992, which became a party in 2000 and has been a bastion of the right-wing opposition, producing leaders such as Julio Borges and Henrique Capriles Radonski.
In April 2002, Lopez was among those who led an opposition march which was re-routed toward the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, where thousands of Chavez supporters were also demonstrating. Dozens of people were killed in the ensuing clashes, which have been shown to be a premeditated, orchestrated massacre to justify the coup and kidnapping of then President Chavez.
Lopez was a frequent target of Chavista harassment because of his public image as a young, hard-working opposition mayor. Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian suspended Lopez (Primero Justicia) from political activity for six years after he left office in 2008 because Lopez' office paid local officials' salaries with money earmarked for a federal fund.
In 2006 Chavez had a wide margin of his victory, 63 percent to 37 percent, over Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales. Lopez played a big role in organizing Rosales' three successful mass rallies in Caracas, including the enormous November 25 rally on the Francisco Fajardo highway. Rosales won 76 percent of the vote in Chacao and won big in adjoining upper middle class neighborhoods. In addition, the telegenic and articulate Lopez served as a key campaign media spokesman. He is now even more widely regarded as one of the opposition's best hopes for the future. At the end of his term in 2008, however, Lopez faced a six-year prohibition on running for office for improperly diverting ear-marked federal funds to the municipal treasury.
Lopez was a co-founder of PJ but left the party to join UNT in 2007. By 2008 Lopez was more popular in public opinion polls than Rosales, but most people still perceived Rosales as the de facto opposition leader. While Rosales had connections and power in Zulia State, Lopez was far more charismatic and popular. Barring some relief from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Lopez will not be able to run for a National Assembly seat in 2010 or for president in 2012.
Lopez announced 01 September 2009, that he had in fact been ejected from UNT due to "differences" with party officials over how to proceed in advance of National Assembly (AN) and municipal council elections expected in 2010. Lopez advocated that opposition parties hold a single national primary to select candidates. The UNT leader, Manuel Rosales, fled to Peru to seek political asylum in April 2009. This was the second time in less than three years that Lopez had split from a party; in 2007, he left Primero Justicia (PJ), which he co-founded in 2000, to join UNT. Lopez seemed to believe he knows better how to beat Chavez and will not hesitate to break with his opposition colleagues to get his way.
Lopez was detained in February 2014 for allegedly inciting violence during anti-government protests in which three people died and dozens were wounded. Lopez was sentenced in September 2015 to 13 years for inciting violent protests in 2014 that led to over 40 deaths. The verdict was directly linked to Lopez‘s role in a nationwide campaign of violence by supporters of the far right. Dubbed “La Salida” (The Exit), the campaign sought to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to resign by bringing Venezuela to a standstill with street blockades and violence against government supporters. While Lopez firmly supported La Salida, Capriles opposed.
Lopez, transferred from a military prison to house arrest in a surprise move 08 July 2017, pledged to continue pressuring the country's leftist government to restore democratic norms — and urged his supporters to do the same. "Today, I am a prisoner in my house, but so are the Venezuelan people," he said in a statement read outside his house by National Assembly lawmaker Freddy Guevara, a leader of the Popular Will party that Lopez founded. "What kept me going in the toughest days was knowing that whatever suffering I endured was nothing compared to our people." His statement called for Venezuelans to continue street demonstrations against the administration of President Nicolas Maduro and to vote in an unofficial referendum July 16 on whether they support the socialist leader's call to rewrite the country's constitution.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó stunned the nation 30 April 2019 when he appeared on a video at dawn surrounded by a few dozen national guardsmen urging troops to abandon Maduro and join those clamoring for the socialist leader’s ouster. In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó’s political mentor and the nation’s most-prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him. He had been detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, and Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces following an order from Guaidó. Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence and later moved to the Spanish Embassy.
Lopez is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry -- but party officials also concede his enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organizer. While the parties need Lopez's following to expand their narrow electoral base, they appear frustrated with his uncompromising approach and do not trust his motives.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|