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14 July, 2017

The violent past of Leopoldo Lopez, poster boy for the Venezuelan opposition

This week saw Leopoldo Lopez, a so-called “revolutionary” and major figure in Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, released from prison to house arrest due to “health concerns.” Though celebrated by foreign media, Lopez has a history of inciting fatally violent protests.

by Whitney Webb

Part 2 - The Leopoldo López the press doesn’t want you to meet

López often receives praise in the Western press as a “prisoner of conscience” and “fiery leader.” Newsweek once glowingly wrote of his “twinkling chocolate-colored eyes and high cheekbones,” calling him a “revolutionary who has it all.” The Spanish newspaper El País has even called him the Venezuelan Nelson Mandela. Many news outlets have called him a likely future president of Venezuela. However, López’s political history suggests that he is hardly the man of the people and political martyr that he is made out to be.

López was born into the upper echelon of the Venezuelan elite. A direct descendant of the 19th-century liberator turned dictator Simón Bolívar and Venezuela’s first president Cristóbal Mendoza, López’s family hails from a long line of Venezuelan political aristocracy.

He was sent to the U.S. to complete his education in elite institutions such as the Hun School of Princeton, a private boarding school whose alumni include Saudi princes, as well as the children of U.S. presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs. From there, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and then Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Some journalists have asserted that López began a relationship with the CIA while at Kenyon.

Also while studying in the U.S., López co-founded the group Primero Justicia (Justice First) in 1992, which later became a political party of central importance in right-wing Venezuelan politics.

López, upon his return to Venezuela in 1996, did not immediately jump into politics, instead taking a lucrative job as an analyst at the semi-privatized Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), where he worked until 1999. During this time, he and his mother – who also worked at the company – funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Primero Justicia – an illegal act under Venezuelan corruption laws.

This corruption scandal, however, did not come to light until years later, when a 2007 investigation exposed the wrongdoing and barred López from holding political office for several years.

After leaving his job at PDVSA, López made his entry into Venezuelan politics in 2000 and was elected mayor of Chacao, a Caracas district known to be one of the wealthiest areas in all of Venezuela. Two years later, López began visiting Washington, D.C. rather frequently “to visit the IRI (International Republican Institute) headquarters and meet with officials from the George W. Bush administration,” according to journalist Eva Golinger.

The IRI is one of three foundations comprising the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government-funded NGO linked to countless regime change efforts abroad, including Egypt (2013) and Ukraine (2014). The institute is currently chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

The IRI, along with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), has also directly funded the party López began, Primero Justicia, as well as his current political party Voluntad Popular, which López founded in 2010.

In 2002, while still serving as mayor, López participated directly in the U.S.-backed coup attempt aimed at removing democratically elected President Hugo Chávez from power. López specifically participated in the illegal detention of then-Minister of the Interior and Justice Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, as well as violent attacks against Caracas’ Cuban Embassy that saw a group of protesters try to violently enter the building. When they could not force their entry, they cut off water and electricity to the building and smashed windows and vehicles.

Chávez pardoned López for his role in the coup in 2007 and López was only barred from holding political office from 2008 to 2014 following the revelation of his past corrupt dealings at PDVSA, as well as the discovery of his misuse of public funds while mayor.

In the years since, López has tried to distance himself from the 2002 coup attempt, which remains very unpopular with Venezuelans on both sides of the political spectrum. López’s attorneys claimed in 2014 that “at no point was López ever a proponent of the coup, nor was he allied with the business leaders who led it,” despite the fact that there is video evidence showing him participating in the kidnapping of Chacín or the fact that his own father, Leopoldo López Gil, was a business leader who signed a decree suspending the Venezuelan constitution that had been issued by the short-lived coup government.

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