Popular Will opposition party leader Leopoldo López is now Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner. In a pre-recorded video released after his arrest, the longtime thorn-in-the-side of socialist leaders Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro encouraged the people of Venezuela to continue protesting.
“Violence is the weapon used by people who are wrong,” López told supporters in a video in which he was recorded alongside his wife in an undisclosed location before his arrest in a public square of Caracas Tuesday, February 18th. He told the audience that he was “probably already in the hands of state security, detained unjustly for dreaming of a better Venezuela,” a crime he decried as “one more abuse on the part of the government, full of lies, of falsehoods.”
He encouraged the use of social media, stating, “I invite you all to become a medium [of communication] unto yourself,” and he discouraged listening to the “lies” of state media. Most of all, López appealed to the youth of the country and to his children. “Looking into the eyes of my children I have found the resilience to continue this struggle,” he said, adding that only the youth of the country could do what is needed to change it. His message (in Spanish) below:
According to Argentine news outlet Infobae, López was transferred to a military facility on Wednesday and will have a hearing on his matter Thursday. Most of his transfer has been videotaped and put online by the Venezuelan government, and he was seen being personally escorted by Diosdado Cabello, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly (legislature), throughout most of his voyage. It is certainly not the regular mode of transport for criminals to be transferred to a military prison by the head of the legislature. (Imagine someone indicted for terrorism being escorted to Guantánamo by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.)
The Venezuelan government has a typically wild answer to why they went with this mode of transport. According to President Maduro, “‘The extreme right in Miami’ had mobilized a group of assassins to kill him and blame the Venezuelan government.” He then organized a public event to brag about “what the Revolution does to guarantee peace: we ended up protecting the life of Leopoldo López.”
While López’s personal situation appears more dire, Venezuela’s upheaval continues. The government appears not only to be targeting protesters, but Popular Will itself. Peruvian newspaper La República published surveillance footage Monday of a raid on the central offices of Popular Will. At the time, López warned that they were being illegally entered into. The two videos published show a group of armed and uniformed men, “presumed members of military counterintelligence,” harassing office workers and searching the premises.
The Popular Will organized a protest Wednesday at 10:00 AM in Caracas in solidarity with their leader, and protests nationwide have claimed at least one life today: Genesis Carmona, a student and beauty queen shot in the head during a peaceful march.
López is scheduled to appear in public under custody again later this week.