Venezuela: Secret Police Loot Political Prisoner Leopoldo López’s House

Leopoldo López
Fernando Llano/Associated Press

The wife of Venezuelan opposition leader and newly freed political prisoner Leopoldo López denounced the socialist secret police for looting their home while they sought refuge in the Spanish embassy of Caracas late Wednesday.

Lilian Tintori told Spain’s EFE news agency that officers tied to dictator Nicolás Maduro raided the home, destroyed much of it, and stole every major item of value, including their youngest daughter’s baby bottles.

López, serving a 13-year prison sentence since 2015 for “terrorism” (organizing peaceful protests against Maduro), resurfaced early Tuesday alongside the nation’s President Juan Guaidó at an airbase outside of Caracas, saying that the secret police (SEBIN) agents responsible for guarding him under house arrest had freed him on Guaidó’s orders. He has since taken refuge at the Spanish embassy in Caracas, though he insists he is not requesting political asylum.

Tintori let EFE into the couple’s home on Wednesday to demonstrate why they felt the need to hide out at an embassy in the ensuing unrest with their three children. Video footage published by the news agency showed piles of books, paperwork, and other items strewn all over the floor. Police appear to have overturned every corner of the house looking for information that may be valuable to the regime.

“They entered our home last night, like delinquents, with no search warrant and without us present, they destroyed the house and stole our things,” Tintori wrote on Twitter. “We don’t know what the intention was, they knew that neither I, nor Leopoldo, nor my children were present. I tidied up the house because it is our home, it is where our children live, if they are looking for surrender we will remain on our feet, firm, like all Venezuelans.

Tintori told EFE that the SEBIN, which was responsible for guarding López while under house arrest, was also responsible for the looting, though she specified that there were “patriotic” members of the secret police who had defected from those acting on Maduro’s orders.

“They stole televisions, sound equipment, all our electronics, computers, they stole my daughter Federica’s baby bottles and the milk I had hidden,” she denounced. “I haven’t checked my room yet, but it is destroyed, I don’t know what they gain from this.”

Venezuela is suffering a prodigious humanitarian crisis following two years of socialist policy implementation. Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds involuntarily due to food shortages, the last year for which statistics are available. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuelans do not have access to three meals a day. Families, alongside soldiers, digging through trash for food on the streets of Caracas is not an uncommon sight. Enough baby formula to sufficiently feed one infant costs a month’s worth of wages.

López, a descendant of Simón Bolívar with a Harvard pedigree and close ties to pre-socialist Venezuelan presidential administrations, lived a relatively comfortable life before his arrest and imprisonment. As of last year, a New York Times profile revealed he could afford to share his daughter’s birthday cake with the SEBIN officers watching him under house arrest, a luxury unheard of for many in the country. Independent of Maduro’s likely desire to intimidate López’s family, the officers also saw an opportunity to acquire highly sought-after goods, like infant milk and electronics, to use and sell themselves.

Following López’s arrest, he and his family have endured near-constant torture and harassment. Despite being a civilian, Maduro initially ordered López to serve his prison sentence in Ramo Verde, a notorious military prison where Tintori denounced the use of torture against her husband. His health deteriorated to such a degree in the prison that Maduro’s courts finally agreed to place him under house arrest in 2017, on the condition he not speak publicly.

Prior to house arrest, Tintori denounced the SEBIN for forcing her and her mother-in-law to endure humiliating searches at Ramo Verde.

“While completely naked, they demanded I open my legs multiple times and checked even the underwear they took from me,” Lilian Tintori wrote on Twitter of a 2016 prison visit. “They did the same to Leopoldo’s mother, but in the room with her were my children.”

Tintori became a target for the Maduro regime during López’s years in Ramo Verde, as she took up activism to set him free. In February 2017, she became one of President Donald Trump’s first guests at the White House, where Trump reportedly affirmed his commitment to helping the Venezuela freedom movement.

Speaking on Wednesday, Tintori vowed to stay in her home and repair all the damage the SEBIN did as soon as possible.

“It is difficult, but I am in my house and I am going to tidy up, I am going to organize everything that they tossed on the floor back in its place. Everything they destroyed I will put back. This is a house as firm as Venezuela,” she told EFE.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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