It has been a month since Leopoldo Lopez was imprisoned by the Venezuelan government for leading peaceful protests against the ruling party's role in driving the economic and social deterioration of Venezuela. As you look back on the circumstances of Leopoldo's arrest, there are five points worth remembering:
- Leopoldo's only "crime" was to call for peaceful protest. He said in his final protest speech: "Embrace our right to protest, but do so peacefully and without resorting to violence. I ask that all of us here today, all Venezuelans who want change, to get informed, educated and organized, and to carry out a non-violent protest, a massive demonstration of freewill, hearts and souls of the people who want change. But without hurting thy neighbor."
- No evidence of any kind has been produced to support Leopoldo's imprisonment. No hearing has been held, and the court has not required the government to produce evidence. The government is required by law to present a conclusive charge within 45 days of the arrest (April 4). It was demonstrated during the preliminary phase that the charges presented by the government did not correspond to any facts of the case. The alleged crimes include arson, damages to state-owned buildings, conspiracy, and enticement, with a sentence of up to 10 years.
- Human Rights organizations have called for his immediate release. Amnesty International called the charges a "politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country" and called on the government to "release him immediately and unconditionally." Human Rights Watch said the government provided no evidence linking Lopez to any crime, "just insults and conspiracy theories." The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said evidence "must be submitted immediately or you must release him." Other organizations that have weighed in include the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Kennedy Center, the Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Center for American Progress.
- But Latin America's leaders are still silent. Other than Panama, Latin American nations have assiduously avoided commenting directly on the matter - and also have blocked the Organization of American States from taking any concrete action or investigatory steps. Many leaders in Latin America today have their own experiences of abuse at the hands of dictatorships and yet are bending over backwards to ignore the abuse that is happening in plain site in Venezuela.
- Leopoldo is not a "hardliner" or a "radical." Even though these terms are often recycled in the media, Leopoldo is and always has been a left of center leader known for building bridges across Venezuela's deeply divided populations. Foreign Policy magazine had this to say about Leopoldo in a recent analysis: "In other countries of the world, López would be regarded as slightly left of center.... He would likely privatize some, if not all, of the companies, nationalized under the banner of Chávez's Bolivarian revolution.... He is a defender of strict freedom of the press and assembly and argues that the courts, the national electoral body, and the state attorney general's offices have all become appendages of Maduro's political party."
We are former classmates, lifelong friends and international citizens who believe in the universal values of free speech and human rights. Our effort was formed in order to shed light on the plight of Leopoldo and other victims, and promote the rights of millions of Venezuelans who deserve a better future.