After spending three years in prison, opposition leader Leopoldo López has been under house arrest since July 2017. López, who became a symbol for democracy in Venezuela after the death of former president Hugo Chavez, faces a 14-years sentence on terrorism charges. While López has been in the Venezuelan government’s custody for four years now, the vocal opposition leader is refusing to stay silent.
In an interview with the New York Times, Leopoldo López admits that his conversations with journalist Wil S. Hylton, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, could land him in military prison once again— or even worse. After the release of the New York Times interview earlier this week on podcast The Daily, López is under increased military surveillance and his longtime head of security has been apprehended by state police.
Since his arrest in 2015, global leaders and activists have put pressure on the Venezuelan government, led by Nicolás Maduro, to release López and accused authorities of violating human rights. López was first taken into custody in 2014 after a peaceful protest in Caracas turned violent and several witnesses claimed the opposition leader instigated the violence and disorder. López announced he would turn himself in through a video and invite his followers to accompany him dressed in white. After the incident, in a dramatic scene, López announced he would turn himself in through a video and invited his followers to accompany him dressed in white.
López was once a prominent mayor of Chacao, a district in Caracas. In 2008, the government of Hugo Chavez banned López from seeking a presidential run, accusing the opposition leader of corruption and misuse of public funds. López still vowed to run for president, but in 2012 he backed off to support candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. After López was taken into custody by Maduro’s government, “proof of life” videos were released in 2017 to dispel rumors of his poor health. López managed to smuggle cell phones inside the prison, according to the New York Times, to send messages to his supporters.
Although Maduro’s government has cracked down on freedom of expression in the Latin American country, López continues to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In the last few months, reports of starvation, extreme poverty, a country-wide lack of basic resources, power outages and harrowing images of families searching for food in trash bins and malnourished infants have shocked the world. López told the New York Times that the current situation in Venezuela is what motivates him to speak out, even if that means going back to jail.
You can listen to the two-part New York Times interview here.