Former Mayor of Chacao and one of the leaders of the Venezuelan opposition, Leopoldo López, has spent almost 15 months already in the military prison, Ramo Verde, charged by the government for inciting violence.
His trial has dragged on since September, with hearings held with regularity some months and then in others—as happened in April—ending abruptly with no advance notice and no apparent plans to restart them. But not only are the hearings convened at the apparent discretion of a judicial system stacked by and acting on behalf of the government of President Nicolás Maduro, they are also closed to the media. Supposedly, if you’re in the audience you can’t even take notes in the courtroom.
Given the quality of the government’s case, though, you really can’t blame them for dragging their feet on the trial and closing it off to public scrutiny. One of the Maduro government’s major charges is that López was sending subliminal messages to his followers, subtly—but insidiously!—telling them to rebel. (Honestly, does anyone still believe in subliminal messaging? Didn’t that go out in the 1970s with ESP and the Amazing Kreskin?) And true to form, in a recent hearing, one of the government witnesses, a telecoms expert, reported as evidence of López’s nefarious activities that on one of the days of the protest his cell phone received no domestic calls but several international calls.
If there was ever a Perry Mason gotcha moment in a trial has to be it, right? International calls? I would say the guy’s definitely guilty….except that I probably receive at least six international calls a day on my cell phone, from reporters, from friends, from colleagues, I can’t keep track. I guess I shouldn’t go to Venezuela.
This would all be ridiculously laughable until you meet his parents. His mother, whom I saw only three days after Mothers’ Day, and father show the stress of having their son arbitrarily incarcerated and confined to solitary confinement. In talking to them, a parent can’t help but struggle to understand what they must be going through: fear for their son’s safety and what he must be going through. But for Leo’s mother and father, there is also pride for their son’s stubborn, unbreakable commitment to democratic principles and their country.
In fact, after meeting with them, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by their familial pride and patriotism.
Their son continues to stand up to the head of Ramo Verde, Army Colonel Homero Miranda, with little fear of the potential consequences. And let’s be honest, a government that charges a political opponent with such laughable charges, drags out the hearings and then moves him to solitary confinement in a two-meter-by-two-meter cell can pretty much do anything they want to him behind closed doors.
And they have. When he locked the door to his cell in July to prevent being attacked by masked guards (as he had been before), they took a blow torch and removed the door. When they attempted to restrict the number of books he could have in his cell, he insisted on continuing to read by just swapping the books he read with new ones provided by his family in some sort of parody of a public library. And when a group of six guards ominously told him to put on his shoes so he could be moved, he refused—and they did nothing.
Now that I think about it, maybe one of the most laughable elements of this story isn’t the charges and case that the government has mounted against a peaceful political protestor, it’s that he continues to stand up to and even taunt his tormentors. It’s enough to make a mother—and father—proud.