According to Spanish newspaper ABC, prominent Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López was arrested this afternoon in Caracas after President Nicolás Maduro issued a warrant for “murder and terrorism.” López has organized peaceful anti-Chavez protests for more than 15 years and was behind this weekend’s deadly protests.
López handed himself to authorities around 12:25 PM local time, according to multiple sources, after appearing at the foot of a statue of Cuban founding father José Martí and agreeing to go peacefully should authorities come to arrest him. López, leader of the dissident Popular Will party, received a warrant for his arrest after suspected government officials killed three student protesters during peaceful protests last weekend. Upon issuing the warrant, government authorities raided the homes of López and several family members but failed to find him. López released a video on Twitter shortly thereafter from an undisclosed location, in which he urged protesters to gather in Caracas today and promised to be there to greet them.
López kept his promise and went to the statue of Martí and greeted thousands of protesters who gathered to support him against the charges leveled. Below, footage from opposition network Globovision of López greeting protesters:
About an hour ago, he sent his final tweet:
López sent his final tweet around noon Caracas time:
Me desconecto. Gracias Venezuela. El cambio esta en cada uno de nostros. No nos rindamos. Yo no lo hare!
– Leopoldo López (@leopoldolopez) February 18, 2014
“I am logging off. Thank you, Venezuela. Change is within every one of us. Let us not give up. I won’t!” Before being arrested at the foot of the Martí statue, he reiterated his hope that his arrest would help end the post-Chávez regime, adding, “if my arrest will help wake the people and allow for the majority of Venezuelans who want change to be able to construct it, it will be worth it.”
López is currently in custody and being transported to a government facility. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reports that López was placed in a National Guard tank and sent to an undisclosed location, while the protest in his name continued. Spanish newspaper ABC reports that scuffles between protesters and police began immediately after López was escorted away.
This is not López’s first encounter with the Venezuelan socialist dictatorship’s brute force. López, a Harvard-educated, pro-America former mayor who has been involved in the fight against Hugo Chávez since as early as 1998, amassed as many as 26 bogus criminal charges against him under Chávez’s reign. Under current dictator Maduro, this is López’s first major brush with the law. López is being held on charges of murder and terrorism for organizing anti-socialist protests this weekend which resulted in the deaths of three student protesters, and a fourth last night. In practice, however, López has become the most high-profile political prisoner in the history of Venezuela. The first three deaths–shootings–are suspected to have been the product of skirmishes between protesters and government agents; the fourth, protesters and witnesses suggest, was the result of a government supporter driving his car over the murdered student. All are being pinned on López.