One year ago today, the Venezuelan government arrested Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López for organizing a protest against the government’s socialist policies. He remains in prison, and his wife, Lilian Tintori, has organized a protest of thousands in the very Caracas square where he was arrested, as reports surface that he has been moved into an isolation ward.
López, who remains the head of the nation’s largest opposition party, was arrested after being warned that any further appearances in public after a February 12 march against socialism would land him in jail. He was arrested on charges of terrorism, which have since been dropped, and still faces charges of “public instigation, criminal association, property damage, and arson.” While making multiple court appearances, no resolution of his criminal matter appears in sight in the foreseeable future.
To commemorate the anniversary of his arrest, Tintori released a video on social media last night calling all to congregate in the Caracas square where López last spoke freely, and to wear white as a symbol of unity against the Bolivarian socialist government.
Thousands congregated last year in the same place at López’s behest, and a similar turnout is expected today. López’s family and a bevy of opposition leaders are currently in the square rallying the crowd. In addition, opposition leaders have called for those who support political freedom but cannot make it to the march to place white shirts in front of the doors of their homes. Images from both the rally in Caracas and supporters nationwide are flooding Twitter; supporters are using the hashtags #LiberenaLeopoldo (#FreeLeopoldo) and #VisteaVzladeBlanco (#DressVzlainWhite):
— Luis Somaza (@LuisSomaza) February 18, 2015
— Movimiento Juvenil W (@UnidadJuvenilW) February 18, 2015
— Lilian Tintori (@liliantintori) February 18, 2015
— ProfesorCela (@ProfesorCela) February 18, 2015
— José Alvarado (@jaal502) February 17, 2015
— Aviso Venezuela (@AvisoVzla) February 18, 2015
— Anonymous Peque (@xandergarcia6) February 18, 2015
— Alfredo Jimeno R. (@AlfredoJimenoR) February 16, 2015
Opposition leaders tell various media outlets that they expect some resistance to their assembly, though at press time no such reports have surfaced.
Meanwhile, López himself has reportedly been moved to an isolation ward for fifteen days, according to Spanish newspaper ABC. The punishment follows repeated calls from within the prison for President Nicolás Maduro to resign.
Ramo Verde is considered the most dangerous and uninhabitable prison in Venezuela, reserved for political dissidents. Salvatore Lucchesse, a former Ramo Verde inmate who served his term for opposing the Chavista government, described the prison in an interview after being released “unlike any other prison in Venezuela.” “We spent 23 hours locked in a four by three meter cell with an internal bathroom. It was very humid,” he explained, and very dark.
Perhaps as a response to international pressure– not just from traditional anti-socialist outlets, but human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch— authorities permitted López to speak to CNN journalist Fernando del Rincón in an interview that will air on the network’s Spanish language outlet this week.