Canadian MPs support for prisoners’ rights misses the mark on at least one “political prisoner”

January 31, 2015

We were delighted to read that your party participated in an event advocating the promotion and protection of human rights on the eve of the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. We were however, dismayed to see included in the list of political prisoners, Mr. Leopoldo López referred to as a “distinguished” Venezuelan by Conservative MP Scott Reid. López is indeed distinguished but not for being a democrat or respectful of his country’s constitution but rather for his long history of violence and corruption while seeking to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected governments of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. His own allies, staff at the US embassy in Caracas described him as “arrogant, vengeful, and thirsty for power” according to documents released by Wikileaks.

He is the de facto leader of the extreme right wing opposition leading demonstrations organized as part of a strategy launched by him and other hard-line opposition members, called “the exit” in English. The strategy led to 43 deaths and hundreds wounded, including security officers, civilian bystanders and members from both sides.

López has made no secret of his intention to ultimately remove President Maduro from office and was arrested after leading a large opposition demonstration in central Caracas on the 12th of February 2014, which led to three deaths and the destruction of the Attorney General’s office. The state maintains that the march’s main aim was to destabilize the country by provoking a coup d’etat. Even fellow opposition members called his “push for street demonstrations as irresponsible”.

Like in Canada, the judicial system in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is autonomous and President Maduro cannot interfere in judicial proceedings; any attempt to do so would be a flagrant violation of judicial sovereignty and autonomy. The government has indicated that proceedings against López are being conducted within the framework of the law and have nothing to do with the president. An independent judge found enough evidence to have López stand trial for serious charges that include public incitement (to violence), criminal association, and property and fire damage. The prosecution presented more than 108 witnesses to support their case. López supporters claim that the delay in his trial is tantamount to political repression. However, Venezuelan constitutional lawyer, Jesus Silva points out that it’s the defense’s own tactic to repeatedly delay proceedings to avoid going to trial and use it “as an international political platform”.

López is no stranger to the criminal system in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and his distinguished criminal record dates back to when he was Mayor of Chacao. In 2008, he was accused of corruption stemming from his majorship when it was uncovered he had diverted public funds from the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A to his political party, Primera Justicia. He was barred from seeking public office for 6 years by the national comptroller-general. López challenged these charges in 2011 but lost when the Supreme Court upheld the ban.

López has been engaged in destabilizing activities against the Bolivarian government for many years. There is well documented evidence that he has received extensive funding from US agencies, such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) whose end goal is regime change.

Lopez is infamous for orchestrating and leading violent protests that lead to the coup d’etat against former president Hugo Chavez in 2002. He played a key role in the illegal arrest of Chavez’s interior minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín and signed the now infamous “Carmona Decree” which dissolved the Venezuelan constitution and appointed Pedro Carmona as interim president. After the failed coup, López and his co-conspirators were charged but were fortunate that former president Chavez issued a general amnesty to all those involved in the coup.

Most recently, Leopoldo made headlines again but this time in Singapore where the Singapore Research Department opened an investigation against several people for fraud, including himself and his father, for money laundering.

If any Venezuelans deserve to be honoured, they are the victims of violence caused during the protests that were led by extreme right wing leaders like López. The relatives of victims of the opposition violence have announced that they have formed an action committee to seek justice and raise awareness about the right-wing violence.

We applaud efforts to draw attention to political repression around the world but not when it serves the interests of the right-wing agenda in Canada and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Raul Burbano
Common Frontiers – Program Director