Tuesday Venezuelan opposition leader Leopold Lopez turned himself in to police who were seeking him on charges of terrorism and murder. Lopez helped organize massive student protests against President Maduro last week, demanding Venezuela’s socialist government do something about crime, corruption and the countries downward economic spiral.
Now it appears the government is pressing forward with plans to imprison Lopez for crimes he not only did not commit but which, very probably, were committed by supporters of the Maduro government.
Last week groups of armed, masked men on motorcycles fired into crowds of protesters indiscriminately. Three people were killed. One more was killed this week when he was struck by a truck. These are the murder the government is attempting to pin on Lopez despite the fact that no one really knows who is responsible for the shootings.
Dario Vivas, first vice president of the National Assembly in Venezuela, voiced the Maduro government’s position in an interview with CNN Chile yesterday. Vivas claimed Lopez “is responsible for a series of terrorist acts in the city of Caracas” adding that Lopez’ “violent action caused deaths and injuries.” Vivas also suggested that “U.S. imperialism” played a role in the protests. Earlier this week the Maduro government asked U.S. diplomats to leave the county.
Outside observers including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch note that there is no evidence connecting Lopez to any of the killings. HRW called for Lopez’ “immediate and unconditional” release. HRW director José Miguel Vivanco said of the arrest “The only probable cause here seems to be the fact that Lopez is a political opponent of the president, but unfortunately, in a country without an independent judiciary, this may be enough.” An Amnesty spokesman echoed his comments saying the charges “smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.”
The actual evidence would not seem to support a claim that Lopez is responsible. Both the UK’s Independent and the AP reported that armed men who fired on protesters appeared to be Maduro supporters. At least two of the people killed last week are known to have been protesters (one killed later was a supporter of President Maduro).
Lopez left a final message to supporters before turning himself in. His tweet has since been retweeted 75,000 times. It reads (via Google translate) “I’m going to Ramo Verde prison. I leave a message…because I keep fighting against dictatorship #ResistenciaVzla” The “message” was a link to a video of Lopez and his wife. CNN translated a portion of it:
If you are watching this video, it is because the government has carriedout one more abuse, full of lies, of falsehoods, of twisting facts andtrying to manipulate the reality that we Venezuelans are living,” hesaid. “I want to tell all Venezuelans that I do not regret what we havedone up to this moment, in convoking the protests. … The people cameout. The people woke up.
Reuters reported a 5th fatality in the conflict on Wednesday. Genesis Carmona, age 22 and described as a “local beauty queen,” was shot in the head Tuesday. An unnamed relative of Carmona asks “How long are we going to live like this? How long do we have to tolerate this pressure, with them killing us?“