Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, currently finds himself in a Caracas courthouse as he faces trial for charges of damaging property, arson, and instigating violence.
The trial comes on the heels of massive protests that rocked the South American nation earlier this year, during which Lopez played a prominent role as one of the most influential opponents of the regime. The trialwhich began on Wednesday and is being held behind closed doorshas faced heavy criticism from outside observers for its lack of transparency and due process.
Leopoldo Lopezwho has long been one of the main voices of the Venezuelan political oppositionbecame a particularly prominent figure in the nationwide protests, which swept the streets of all major Venezuelan cities in January and February of this year. The Harvard grad distinguished himself as one of the most prominent political figures in Venezuela over the past fifteen years for the role he played in speaking out against the populist policies of the Chavez regime.
He has also spoken out against what he calls the inept administration under Chavezs successor, Nicolas Maduro.
Leopoldo Lopez experiences retribution
In 2000, the former mayor of the Chacao municipality in Caracas helped co-found the Primero Justicia party, alongside former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. He was originally elected mayor of Chacao in 2000 with 51% of the vote, only to be re-elected three years later with over 80% of the vote after a successful term in office, which had seen him acquire a hugely popular position in the eyes of constituents.
As one of the main organizers of the 2002 demonstrationswhich led to the public arrest of Chavezs interior minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, and Chavezs temporary removal from officeLopez was barred from holding office in 2008, when he tried to run for mayor of Caracas. The move was widely seen as retribution by the Chavez regime for the role Lopez had played in the demonstrations six years earlier.
When hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets January of 2014 in reaction to increasing inflation rates, rampant crime, and the lack of basic commodities, Lopez once again emerged as a clear leader of the demonstrations. Taking to both social media and the streets of his hometown, Caracas, Lopez called for reform as he helped organize peaceful protests that all but shut down Venezuela for weeks.
Faced with the risk of being overthrown, the Maduro regime sought to quell the protests through the use of security forces that would go on to eliminate the peaceful nature of the demonstrations. Since the Maduro administrations response, 42 people have died in protest-related violence. Outraged by the manner in which the Venezuelan government had treated its own people, Lopez took to the Plaza Brion de Chacaito in Caracas on February 18th where he gave a potent speech outlining the reasons for the demise of Venezuelan democracy before turning himself in to authorities nearby.
Since turning himself in, Lopez has been locked away in a military prison on the outskirts of Caracas. Following a hearing before a judge last month, he was formally indicted on the aforementioned charges and now faces up to ten years in jail if found guilty.
Both Lopezs supporters and independent observers have been critical of the trials circumstances and have indicated that the whole process is politically motivated and has been orchestrated by the Maduro regime.
As Kejal Vyas of the Wall Street Journal reports, Mr. Lopez’s legal team had complained ahead of the trial that several petitions they had filed were thrown out, including requests to open the proceedings to the press and replace the judge. Defense lawyers had argued that the judge overseeing the case had refused the defense from presenting witnesses and legal experts at a preliminary hearing held in June.
Despite the unfavorable circumstances, Lopez and his supporters maintain hope that he will be proved innocent. On Wednesday afternoon, as the trial began, more than 200 supporters showed up to the Caracas courthouse with Free Lopez signs to plead for Lopezs release.