|National Coordinator of Voluntad Popular|
5 December 2009
|Mayor of Chacao|
30 July 2000 – 9 December 2008
|Preceded by||Cornelio Popesco|
|Succeeded by||Emilio Graterón|
|Born||Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza
29 April 1971
|Political party||Voluntad Popular|
|Children||Manuela Rafaela López, Leopoldo Santiago López|
|Alma mater||Kenyon College
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government
Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza (born 29 April 1971) is a Venezuelan politician, currently serving as National Coordinator of Venezuelan political party Voluntad Popular, which he founded in 2009. Born in Caracas, he received a degree in Sociology and Economics from Kenyon College, and later Master of Public Policy from Harvard University. Lopez first ventured into politics in 2000 when he co-founded the political party Primero Justicia alongside Henrique Capriles Radonski and Julio Borges, and ran successfully for the mayorship of the Chacao Municipality in the regional elections held in July 2000. Lopez has received multiple awards for his honesty, efficiency, transparency and for his support of democracy.
In 2004, Lopez was disqualified from holding public office for 6 years (beginning in 2008, at the completion of his term as mayor), as a result of administrative sanctions imposed by Venezuela's Comptroller's Office following an investigation into two corruption scandals: the first related to a political donation to the Justice First civil association, of which Lopez was a member, from the state-owned oil company PDVSA, when he and his mother were employees; the second related to the misappropriation of funds during his term as Chacao mayor. Lopez was never charged with a crime, tried, or allowed to rebutt the allegations. Lopez sued Venezuela and his case was reviewed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which issued a unanimous ruling in his favor. However, the Venezuelan regime refused to abide by the court ruling.
López, who called for peaceful protests in 2014, was arrested on 18 February 2014 on charges of murder and terrorism, which were later changed to lesser charges of "instigating arson, damage and criminal gatherings". His trial is ongoing. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and numerous former presidents have called for his immediate release and protested the nature of the charges against Lopez. Since his arrest, López has become the most popular politician in Venezuela, with an approval rating near 50% compared to President Maduro's rating below 30%.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Business and academic career
- 3 Political life
- 4 Political platform
- 5 Awards and honors
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Notes
- 8 External links
Early life and education
López was born in Caracas on 29 April 1971, into a prominent family. He has two sisters, Diana and Adriana López.
López is a “political blue-blood,” in the words of The Guardian, who comes from “one of the most powerful families in Venezuela.” López' mother, Antonieta Mendoza, is the daughter of Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa, who was Secretary of Agriculture for two years during the Rómulo Betancourt years that lasted from 1945 to 1948. Through her, López is the great-great-great-grandson of the country's first president, Cristóbal Mendoza. López is also the great-great-grand nephew of Simón Bolívar. Bolivar's sister, Juana Bolivar, is López's great-great-great-great-grandmother, making him one of Bolívar's few living relatives. His great-uncle Rafael Ernesto López Ortega was Minister of Education during the presidency of López Contreras. His grandfather Leopoldo López Ortega and great-uncle Rafael Ernesto López Ortega were both doctors, founders of the Centro Medico of San Bernardino in Caracas.
He studied at the Colegio Santiago de León de Caracas and graduated from the Hun School of Princeton. He graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 1993, where he received a degree in Sociology. He subsequently attended Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government where he obtained a Master of Public Policy in 1996. In 2007, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Kenyon. In May 2007 he married Lilian Tintori, with whom he had a daughter in 2009 followed by a son in 2013.
A high-school friend of López’s, HLN anchor Susan Hendricks, described him as having a winning personality during his student years. A college friend, Rob Gluck, said in 2014 that during their student days López had founded a student group called Active Students Helping the Earth Survive. Responding to government characterizations of López, Gluck said: “Calling Leo rightwing is like calling Maya Angelou a racist. It is bizarre. It is the ultimate Orwellian exercise in doublespeak.”
In 1989, López told the student newspaper at the Hun School, The Mall, that “Being away from home created an awakening of the responsibility I have towards the people of my country. I belong to one percent of the privileged people, and achieving a good education will hopefully enable me to do something to help my country.” A fellow student described him as being “very good at getting people psyched” on the swimming and crew teams, and added: “I am sure these qualities will help him lead Venezuela out of the third world some day.” The article noted that López, after graduating from Kenyon, hoped to attend graduate school, and then return to his country “where he hopes to go into politics and improve Venezuela.”
Business and academic career
López worked first as an analyst and consultant, and then eventually as an analyst for the chief economist to the Planning Vice-President in Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) between 1996 and 1999, and has served as a professor of Institutional Economy in the Economics Department at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.
“I decided between a stable job and politics,” López told a reporter in 2007. “And I chose politics. It was an irrational idea driven by faith.”
“With the emergence of Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales as Hugo Chávez’ principal challenger in the 2006 presidential election,” according to one source, “López and several others from Justice First switched their allegiance to Rosales’ party, the social democratic A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo).
Mayor of Chacao (2000-2008)
López was elected mayor of Chacao in 2000 with 51% of the vote, and re-elected in 2004 with 81%. He was praised by constituents “for revamping the public health system and building new public spaces”. During his mayoralty, he introduced TransChacao, a public-transport system credited with greatly improving transport in Chacao. His term of office also saw the opening of the Juan de Dios Guanche school, considered “the most modern public school built in the country during the last 20 years,”  and the Centro Deportivo Eugenio Mendoza, a sports center. He noted that “Forty percent of Chacao men between the ages of 14 and 30 usually die by fighting in the streets. Seventeen thousand are murdered per year….We need to develop programs for these men, providing sports and culture to eliminate the violence.” Under López, work began on several major construction projects, including the Palos Grandes plaza, the new seat of the Mercado Libre, a new headquarters for the Andrés Bello Education Unit, and a massive underground parking facility. According to a 2010 article in Businessweek magazine, Lopez tried to reorganize the Chacao police force around a new CompStat policing model, implemented with apparent success in a neighboring city of Catia, Caracas, but says that, although "we could do the police management [and] get accurate measurements" in his district, he lacked the support of the attorney general to implement these reforms.
During his mayoralty, López won first-prize awards from Transparency International in both 2007 and 2008 for running the country’s most honest and efficient municipal administration. In 2008, he won third place in the World Mayors contest which nominates the "world's most outstanding mayors". The City Mayors Foundation, which runs the contest, wrote that “It would be easy to caricature him as the scion of the country’s wealthy elite, standing in the way of Chávez’ social justice crusade. But López’ record on activism has shown a commitment to promoting legal equality and his constituents speak passionately about a mayor who has delivered on public services and funding new infrastructure.” At the end of his tenure, Lopez had an approval rating of 92%.
Lopez led demonstrations against Hugo Chávez in the days before the coup d'état, according to the Los Angeles Times, While the coup was taking place, he took part in the controversial detention of Chávez's interior minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, although did not participate in the attempted coup. He remained distant from the actual coup however, and maintained that his actions were "only protecting Chacin from an angry mob".
Target of violence
According to the Los Angeles Times, Chávez critics say all government dissidents are being targeted, but "Lopez seems to be the object of a full-out campaign". The Los Angeles Times wrote that one day in February 2006 López was taken hostage by armed thugs at a university where he was speaking and that, in March, one of his bodyguards was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of the car where López normally sits. In June 2008, after López returned from a visit to Washington, D.C., he was allegedly detained and assaulted by the state intelligence service. According to the Venezuelan government, a member of the Venezuelan National Guard denounced López as being responsible for the aggression and presented a video as evidence.
2008 election controversy
In an April 2008 ruling announced by the nation’s comptroller general and then upheld by a court decision, López and several hundred other Venezuelans were barred from running in the November 2008 elections, supposedly for reasons of corruption; 80 percent of those barred belonged to the opposition. The Venezuelan government's ruling found that in 1998, López, while working for Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) and his mother, who was the company's manager of public affairs, awarded a grant to the Primero Justicia Civil Association, an organization of which López was a member. As the best-known banned politician, López contested the sanction, arguing that the right to hold elected office could only be rescinded in the wake of a civil or criminal trial. He claimed the government banned opposition candidates ahead of the November 2008 regional elections because it knew they could win. An April 2008 poll found that 52% of adults in Venezuela opposed the ban, and 51% thought it was politically motivated.
In June 2008, López brought his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C. with López challenging the claims by stating that none of those punished had been charged, prosecuted and found guilty through due process of law, in direct violation of treatises signed by the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan constitution. In July, the Commission agreed to hear his case and noted that the two years that had elapsed since López had filed a motion asking the Court to annul the ban constituted an "undue delay." The IACHR ruled unanimously that Lopez "should be allowed to run for office". Venezuela's Supreme Court (TSJ) declared the ruling 'unenforceable', stating that the disqualification from holding public office was a legal sanction, not a political one, and that Lopez was still able to register as a candidate for office and participate in elections.
Although López and other opponents who had been accused of corruption were never tried or convicted, the Venezuelan government maintained that the administrative disqualification from holding public office is grounded in Article 289 of the Venezuelan Constitution—which grants the comptroller general authority to oversee and regulate public offices, investigate irregularities and apply administrative penalties to persons holding those offices—and Article 105 of the Organic Law of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal ruled in August 2008 that the sanction against López and others was constitutional.
Following the decision by the Venezuelan government, multiple organizations criticized the government's ruling. The Wall Street Journal stated that six of the seven Supreme Court justices were "sympathetic to the president". The Wall Street Journal also noted that the ban "has elicited comparisons to moves by Iran's government preventing opposition politicians from running in elections in that country" and singled López out as "a popular opposition politician who polls say would have a good chance at becoming the mayor of Caracas, one of the most important posts in the country". BBC News called the list of individuals barred from office a "blacklist," noting that there was "little that Mr López and others" could do to participate in the November 2008 elections. The Economist observed that López was the "main apparent target" of the "decision by the auditor-general to ban hundreds of candidates from standing in the state and municipal elections for alleged corruption, even though none has been convicted by the courts". The Carter Center expressed regret that the Venezuelan Supreme Court did not find it feasible to comply with the IACHR's decision. The Human Rights Watch "described political discrimination as a defining feature of Mr. Chávez's presidency," singling out López and the "measure that disqualifies candidates from running for public office because of legal claims against them". The Organization of American States cited the case against López as one of the "factors that contribute to the weakening of the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela." The Associated Press reported that the use of the charges to disqualify López "is a tactic critics say Chavez uses to put his opponents' political ambitions on indefinite hold."
The next day, López and others protested the ruling in a demonstration, until they were blocked in front of a government building. López led protesters on an unauthorized march through Caracas; riot police threw tear gas canisters into the crowd of about 1,000 marchers.
López again filed a complaint, this time with the Human Rights Commission of the international Mercosur Parliament, on which Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are represented, and on which Venezuela has observer status. Two members of the commission traveled to Caracas to investigate, but were unable to come to any conclusion because Venezuelan officials refused to meet with them.
Three years after the controversy began, López was cleared of all of the charges of corruption.
On 5 December 2009, in the Valencia forum in Carabobo, López launched Voluntad Popular, saying "What we want is to build a new majority from the bottom up - not just through negotiations and agreements between elites. It's a longer road, but for us, it's the only road that gives us possibilities of winning." López described Voluntad Popular as “a social and political, pluralistic and democratic movement” that stood for “the rights of all Venezuelans.”
2014 protests in Venezuela
The Economist noted in February 2014 that while Henrique Capriles headed the moderate wing of Democratic Unity (MUD), the alliance of Venezuelan opposition parties, López headed “the more confrontational wing.” While both wings preached nonviolence, López, unlike Capriles, “believes that demonstrations can prompt a change of government.” The Guardian wrote in the same month that López and Capriles have “long had a rivalry as well as a friendship,” but that López had now “proved himself the more dynamic of the duo,” with Capriles shaking Maduro’s hand after losing the December 2013 elections while López started ‘La Salida’ (The Exit), a movement “which aims to unseat the president through protests.”
On 12 February of that year, Venezuelan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for López on charges including instigation of delinquency, public intimidation, arson of a public building, damage to public property, severe injury, "incitement to riot", homicide, and terrorism. The day after the warrant was issued, López address Maduro via Twitter, saying, "Don't you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana? I tell you, the truth is on our side."
In a late-night nationally televised broadcast on February 16, according to Reuters, “Maduro told López to hand himself in ‘without a show,’ and said he had rejected pressure from Washington to drop the case against him.” Maduro “said he had ordered three U.S. consular officials to leave the country for conspiring against his government,” and declared: “Venezuela doesn't take orders from anyone!”
On February 18, López turned himself in to the Guardia Nacional (National Guard) in the presence of thousands of cheering supporters, who, like him, wore white as a symbol of nonviolence. He gave a short speech in which he said that he hoped his arrest would awaken Venezuela to the corruption and economic disaster caused by socialist rule. The only alternative to accepting arrest, he said, standing on a statue of Jose Marti, was to “leave the country, and I will never leave Venezuela!” Hours after the arrest, Maduro addressed a cheering crowd of supporters in red, saying that he would not tolerate "psychological warfare" by his opponents and that López must be held responsible for his "treasonous acts." López’s wife told CNN that night “that López was in good spirits behind bars” and added: “The last thing he told me was don't forget why this is happening, don't forget why he's going to jail. He's asking for the liberation of political prisoners and students and an end to repression and violence.”
On February 20, Supervisory Judge Ralenis Tovar Guillén, issued a pre-trial detention order against López in response to formal charges of “arson of a public building,” “damages to public property,” “instigation to commit a crime,” and “associating for organized crime,” leveled by Franklin Nieves. The arraignment hearing at which López was formally charged, and at which it was decided to keep him incarcerated pending trial, took place inside a military bus parked outside the prison, a process described by Gutierrez as “very unorthodox.” CNN reported that López, if found guilty, “could face up to 10 years in prison.”
López was denied bail and is being held in the Ramo Verde military prison outside of Caracas. During a visit by his wife, López gave her a handwritten note that quickly went viral on social networks. “I'm fine,” he wrote to his supporters, whom he urged “not to give up” and “to stay firm against violence, and to stay organised and disciplined. This is everyone's struggle.” While in prison, his family visited him every week being only allowed to stay for a few hours and deliver lunch. They had to undergo strict searches by guards. López grew a beard and began learning how to play the cuatro. López, a devout Catholic, was not allowed to attend mass or have a priest visit but has been allowed to have an hour of exercise outside each day. In a July 2014 press release, Lopez' wife stated that his visitation rights had been revoked and that he was now subject to psychological tortures including isolation. It was also reported that prison guards would throw feces against López's jail cell. Chilean lawyer and secretary of a mission of Socialist International, José Antonio Viera-Gallo, stated that in the case of López, Socialist International "confirmed human right violations against a political leader" giving examples of when López and others trying to communicate with their families, authorities sound loud sirens preventing communication.
In May of 2015 López announced he was beginning a hunger strike to protest his detention and the mismanagement of the Maduro government. He has urged other jailed opposition members to partake. Daniel Ceballos will also take part in the hunger strike.
Jail cell incident
Human rights groups consider López as "Latin America's most prominent political prisoner". Multiple organizations denounced López's detention and published discussions about it in order to bring attention to his arrest. “The charges brought against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López,” maintained Amnesty International in a February 19 statement, “smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.” Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International Americas Programme Deputy Director, called on Venezuelan authorities to “either present solid evidence to substantiate the charges against López or release him immediately and unconditionally….Currently, Amnesty International has not seen evidence to substantiate these charges. This is an affront to justice and free assembly.” Human Rights Watch said: "The Venezuelan government has openly embraced the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime, jailing its opponents, muzzling the media, and intimidating civil society." HRW further accused the Maduro government of blaming opposition leaders, including López, for violence. The Human Rights Foundation, founded and run by López's first cousin, Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, declared López a prisoner of conscience and joined other international organizations in calling for his immediate release. “With López’s imprisonment and the brutally repressive tactics that police, armed forces, and paramilitary groups are using against his supporters, the Venezuelan state has lost any democratic façade it may have had,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. Former students from Kenyon College put forth an effort to support López since he was detained and helped create freeleopoldo.com. Editorial columns from The New York Times and The Washington Post have also called for his release.
On 23 September 2014 at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, President Barack Obama called for the release of López saying, "We stand in solidarity with those who are detained at this very moment". On 8 October 2014, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that López was detained arbitrarily and that the Venezuelan government "violated several of their civil, political and constitutional rights" while demanding his immediate release. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for the immediate release of López and all Venezuelans arrested during the 2014 protests. In November 2014, Socialist International agreed with the UN's ruling, calling López's arrest arbitrary. On 19 December 2014, the chief diplomat of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, said that she was "seriously concerned" about "continuous arbitrary arrests" in Venezuela, with the EU resolution noting that Leopoldo Lopez "suffered physical and psychological torture" and also denounced the situations of opposition mayors Daniel Ceballos and Vicencio Scarano.
The Venezuelan government condemned the statements by the United States and the United Nations demanding them to not interfere in Venezuelan affairs. The Venezuelan government replied to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with a letter directed to him stating that it was "senseless" to release López and claimed that Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad's statements were "undoubtedly part of the international media manipulation that has been denounced by the top leadership of the Bolivarian Government".
López was set to be tried alongside four students, Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Ángel González, and Demian Martin. He petitioned the court to release these students, who had been arrested in February. Judge Susana Barreiros ordered the release of all but Christian Holdack. At the beginning of his trial, Lopez's defence was barred from entering the court to present evidence and witnesses. For López's defense, only 1 of 63 were allowed to present in court while over 100 witnesses were allowed to present for the prosecution. Since López was detained on 18 February 2014, he was held in Ramo Verde Prison while he was tried. López's court dates were on 23 July, 6 August, 13 August and 28 August. At each of those trials, the prosecution presented against López, yet his defense was allegedly not able to present any information or evidence supporting him. After the court session of 28 August, the case was deferred for a third time to 10 September. The 28 August court session was also under the presence of a delegate of the European Union, allegedly due to concerns about the trial's process. In November 2014, López's defense lawyer stated that the Venezuelan court had rejected the United Nations request on releasing López from prison.
López made repeated statements similar to, "We here do not talk about infrastructure, quality of training, staffing of schools; we Venezuelans want to send our children to quality schools, where they can not only learn Spanish or math, but also acquire values and be formed as wholly complete beings".
He made a call to create grassroots groups, similar to a PTA, or a popular net (red popular), in every school to ensure the quality of schools and the education received by children and youth. "A people's net in every school."
López said, "... part of the solution is to have community organization and we can fix the situation of Venezuela only by promoting culture, sport and employment".
New York Times op-ed
On March 26, 2014, the New York Times published an op-ed by López under the headline "Venezuela’s Failing State". Writing from prison, López lamented that for the past fifteen years, "the definition of 'intolerable' in this country has declined by degrees until, to our dismay, we found ourselves with one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, a 57 percent inflation rate and a scarcity of basic goods unprecedented outside of wartime." This "is matched by an equally oppressive political climate. Since student protests began on Feb. 4, more than 1,500 protesters have been detained, more than 30 have been killed, and more than 50 people have reported that they were tortured while in police custody," thus exposing "the depth of this government's criminalization of dissent".
Addressing his incarceration, López recounted that on February 12, he had “urged Venezuelans to exercise their legal rights to protest and free speech – but to do so peacefully and without violence. Three people were shot and killed that day. An analysis of video by the news organization Últimas Noticias determined that shots were fired from the direction of plainclothes military troops.” Yet after the protest, “President Nicolás Maduro personally ordered my arrest on charges of murder, arson and terrorism….To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented.”
López explained that he was not alone in being imprisoned for political reasons. The previous week, the government had arrested the mayors of both San Cristóbal and San Diego. While some observers “believe that speaking out only antagonizes the ruling party -- inviting Mr. Maduro to move more quickly to strip away rights -- and provides a convenient distraction from the economic and social ruin that is taking place,” López argued that “this path is akin to a victim of abuse remaining silent for fear of inviting more punishment.” Moreover, “millions of Venezuelans do not have the luxury of playing the ‘long game,’ of waiting for change that never comes.” Therefore, it is important “to speak, act and protest,” and not “to become deadened to the steady abuse of rights that is taking place.” López called for justice for Maduro’s victims, for the disarming of paramilitary groups, for “an investigation into fraud committed through our commission for currency exchange,” and for “real engagement from the international community, particularly in Latin America.” He charged that while international human- rights organizations had been outspoken in condemning Maduro, many of Venezuela’s neighbors had responded to his actions with “shameful silence,” as had the Organization of American States., which represents nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Awards and honors
- 2007 – Kenyon College Honoris Causa Doctorate Law
- 2007, 2008 – Premio Transparencia Award, to the most transparent city mayor of Venezuela, granted by the Venezuela branch of Transparency International
- 2008 – Third place, World Mayor Project, admired for being a "hands-on mayor as well as a national politician fighting for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela"
- 2009 – The Most Innovative People Award for Resiliancy from the Future Capitals World Summit
- 2014 – Harvard University Alumni Achievement Award for the support of democracy and transparency in Venezuela
- 2014 – Foreign Policy listed López in its Leading Global Thinkers of 2014 publication.
- 2015 – National Endowment for Democracy awarded López its Democracy Award in May 2015.
- 2015 – Cádiz Cortes Ibero-American Freedom Prize was awarded "given the unblemished defense of freedom in your community and minimum requirements of the realization of human rights in the same, which has led them to be subject to public rebuke of their government, including the flagrant situation of imprisonment or the cutting of your minimal civil rights".
In May 2007 López married Lilian Tintori, with whom he had a daughter, Manuela Rafaela, in 2009 and a son, Leopoldo Santiago, in 2013. "The couple are sometimes mocked as Barbie and Ken for their perfect looks," reported the Guardian in 2014, "but their tearful public parting before López handed himself over to the national guard" in February of that year "proved a powerful image on social networks." The photograph, according to NPR, "cemented his place as the face of the opposition to the government of Nicolás Maduro", indicating that López had taken Capriles' place "as the symbolic head of the opposition".
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