The decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court to grant house arrest, instead of jail time, to opposition leader Leopoldo López is welcome news for those concerned with the state of human rights in Venezuela. But the court’s decision does not represent a policy shift by the government of Nicolás Maduro. The Venezuelan president’s undemocratic practices — which include exerting control over the Supreme Court — have not changed. The government in Caracas continues to crack down on opposition leaders, several of whom remain political prisoners. The decision to release López reflects the government’s desperation to pacify a very active opposition that has taken to the streets and threatens to topple the inept government.
López is one of the best-known opposition leaders in Venezuela. The 46-year economist, who was educated in the US and holds a graduate degree in public policy from Harvard University, belongs to a traditional influential Venezuelan family. He is a descendant of Simón Bolívar, the independence leader beloved by most of South America. López’s grandfather was a minister and several other family members occupied elected and non-elected offices in government before Hugo Chávez was democratically elected in 1999 and launched a process of reforms against the elite, which López comes from. He became involved in politics, winning office in 2000, right after Chávez came to power. Elected as the mayor of the wealthy district of Chacao (2000-2008) in the capital city, Caracas, López emerged as one of the most effective and outspoken opponents of the Chávez regime. When the Bolivarian president was temporarily toppled in 2002, López joined those who supported the unconstitutional two-day government that replaced Chávez. Though the opposition leader has embraced democratic practices since, his record is tainted by having supported the unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically elected Chávez.
The Chávez (1999-2013) and Maduro (2013-present) administrations have targeted López, seeing him as a representative of the old regime that Chávez sought to abolish. But López is a more complex figure. Though through his family origins, he represents the elite that Chávez fought against, López also departed from that group when he helped formed Primero Justicia (Justice First), one of the most important opposition democratic parties in Venezuela. In 2008, López was barred from running for office on alleged charges of corruption. In 2009, he broke with the party and formed Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), an alternative and more radical opposition party which he leads.
In the 2013 election, after the death of Chávez, López supported Henrique Capriles, his former ally and the leader of Primero Justicia and the moderate opposition. But after Maduro claimed victory in those elections, López became even more radical in his opposition to the government. Though Capriles and López are part of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition, the two leaders represent respectively the moderate and radical opposition to Maduro.
To read more, please visit Buenos Aires Herald.