October 8, 2014

Interview with Leopoldo López: Reflections from Prison

"...prison has had a strange effect on López; it has isolated him from the streets and the political fray, but it has also spared him from the war of attrition suffered by other government actors and the opposition...Another effect is that his political image has improved markedly since his imprisonment...an overwhelming majority considers that the government's accusation against López for inciting a coup is false...rather than stigmatizing him as a public enemy, prison has instead sparked an unprecedented validation of his image that keeps his leadership and political future alive far beyond the walls of Ramo Verde."

- Boris Muñoz, Venezuelan Journalist

In an extraordinary two-part interview with journalist Boris Muñoz, Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López speaks in great detail about the events before, during and after his arrest. The interview was conducted over several months through written questionnaires sent to and from Leopoldo's jail cell at Ramo Verde Military Prison and is now translated in English. By turns fascinating and surprising, it is the most detailed and candid look into the current situation of one of the world's most prominent political prisoners.

Part One: Venezuela Today and Recounting #LaSalida

This portion contains a number of revelations, including this description of the government's attempt to negotiate with Leopoldo's family in the days before his arrest:

"According to what Lilian [his wife] and my parents tell me, the meeting was as civil as you could hope for at a time like that. When faced with Lilian's insistence that they were pursuing me unjustly, [Assembly Speaker Diosdado] Cabello even acknowledged to my family that I was innocent and that this was a political measure. He told them that our call for people to take to the streets took them by surprise. ...That first meeting ended cordially, but without any agreement, for the simple reason that there was nothing to agree on."

On the day he was arrested, Cabello accompanied Leopoldo on the hours-long drive to prison.

"I witnessed Cabello calling the President of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor directly to ask them, in the tone of one giving orders, why my case was not ready. I asked him what was happening and he said, 'It's nothing, I thought that you were going to appear and they don't have anything ready.' We went into the courts and he said to me, 'This is the first time I have set foot inside this building.' And I thought, but not the first time you have called a magistrate, the Prosecutor, and the President of the Supreme Court to see 'how things are going.'"

Part Two: Unjust Trial, An Opposition in Crisis and Vision for The Future

In part two, Leopoldo describes his time in prison as well as the events inside the courtroom, where his farcical trial continues to unfold. He also articulates in very candid terms his conversations and strategic differences with other opposition leaders. At one point he is asked about his expectations for release, and he replies:

"I haven't set a timeframe. I know that I will leave here a free man. One of the first books I read when they transferred me to Ramo Verde was about the experience of the Vietnamese Cardinal Van Thuan, who was imprisoned by the communist regime. ...The Cardinal advises that the prisoner's greatest frustration is thinking every day that they will leave in freedom as soon as possible, and when that doesn't happen, they suffer that disappointment every day. Faced with that reality, he explains how he found strength and stability in his relationship with God through two things. The first was occupying himself with living every day to its fullest, and the second was training and preparing himself even more. I know that I will leave here a free man, and that when I do, I will be stronger in mind, body, and soul. I will leave spiritually fortified and without bitterness. Hatred and resentment are what has led our country to this stagnation. We are going to move forward in our dream, which is nothing less than achieving a better Venezuela and a peaceful Venezuela, of wellbeing and progress."