Leopoldo López, Venezuela’s most famous political prisoner, brazenly defied the terms of his house arrest for months, the New York Times revealed in a profile Thursday – to cooperate with the writing of the profile itself.
López, the head of the opposition Popular Will party, was arrested in 2014 for organizing a peaceful protest and spent most of the next four years in the brutal environment of Venezuela’s Ramo Verde prison. After months of public outcry, the Venezuelan dictatorship granted him house arrest, conditional upon him not speaking to reporters.
That house arrest, the New York Times reveals – perhaps inadvertently – compares favorably to the lives of the Venezuelans López claims to represent. The government guards surrounding his home appeared occasionally suspicious that he was speaking to reporters through his computer, but did not stop it. Unlike the common women of Venezuela – forced to give birth on contaminated hospital cots, in vermin-infested hospitals, on the floor – López’s wife Lilian Tintori gave birth to their third child without known incident in a Caracas hospital in late January.
In a passing comment, the profile reveals that López can afford to share his daughter’s birthday cake in a country where 15 percent of people eat garbage to survive and the consumption of dog food is becoming increasingly popular.
López shares bloodlines with multiple prominent Venezuelan families and was raised in Caracas’s wealthy circles but, as the profile notes, became entranced by the exotic poverty of west Caracas at a young age and the “huge potential” of the nation’s poor. His sister says he went into poor neighborhoods to ogle regularly before deciding on a career in politics.
López’s party is a member of the Socialist International and he himself jokes in it that Hugo Chávez’s policy on “microcredits to the poor” once made him think twice about the dictator. The piece presents López’s policies as more akin to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte than the more classically liberal voices of the Venezuelan opposition: “a heterodox mash-up of initiatives that span the political spectrum, from lefty measures like raising corporate taxes to conservative models of policing.”
The word “socialism” does not appear in the profile once.
In an extensive piece documenting months of clandestine conversations with López and the tragic arc of chavismo that has destroyed the nation, author Wil S. Hylton presents the image of a fiery opposition leader following in the footsteps of his highly-connected political ancestors – Venezuelan liberator Simón Bolívar among them – whose optimism plummeted just as the relationship between subject and writer grew. He presents López, not inaccurately, as a man who has sacrificed sleep, family time, and his own personal safety for the greater goal of uniting Venezuela against Nicolás Maduro. He compares López, in some ways prompted by him, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hylton does not shy away from the dark side of a political leader once described as “arrogant, vindictive and power-hungry” – and concedes that, in his estimation, in his estimation, López “would probably land in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party” in American politics. He notes that López’s major talking point these days is unity between the chavistas responsible for the disaster in Venezuela and the right-leaning opposition that has condemned the hellish ideology of socialism since day one.
“In the past, I was in confrontation with different views. Now I understand that everybody is needed in order to reach a way out of this disaster,” López offers diplomatically. Those who may disagree with a unilateral move to oust dictator Nicolás Maduro that does not address the horrors of socialism “have resentment, and I understand that,” he says. “But I think our responsibility is to move beyond the personal resentment. Four years in prison have given me the possibility of seeing things a different way, of putting rage in its perspective.”
The Times profile reveals that López believed that October’s regional “elections” – run by Maduro’s notoriously corruption National Electoral Commission and the fifth fraudulent election in that country in five years – would be the “turning point” against Maduro. “The trajectory was toward transition,” Hylton writes. “This was a time when headlines everywhere predicted a ‘turning point’ for Venezuela, and I think on some unspoken level, López was counting on it.”
In this revelation – that López actually believed this Maduro election would be different than all the others, after all these years – the New York Times highlights the fundamental flaw with the Venezuelan right. López, just like the socialist leaders of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, has always given socialists the benefit of the doubt. The result has been poverty, disease, rape, murder. No number of guest op-eds by López and his family in the New York Times will change that track record, just like no number of propaganda ads in the New York Times by the Maduro regime can absolve them of their crimes.
What López does have is a record of sacrifice. No one can deny his time in prison, held in an isolation many in the international legal community would call torture. A man of his wealth and influence could have easily fled the country and, with a Harvard background, made millions in guest appearances on policy panels in Washington. In 1958, Cuba’s Leopoldo Lópezes fled to Miami the second their lavish assets came under threat and recreated their luxury in the United States. López could have done the same, and he would have a lot more than children’s birthday cake to show for it.
As of the publication of the New York Times profile, Maduro’s secret police have established themselves permanently inside López’s home, wielding large weapons menacingly around the family, according to Tintori.