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Latin America

Is Leopoldo López free? The answer to this and other questions about Venezuela's most popular political prisoner

In the midst of deepening political crisis in Venezuela, the country's Supreme Court granted the opposition leader house arrest after he spent more than three years in a military prison.
10 Jul 2017 – 01:46 PM EDT
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Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López spent three years, four months and 20 days in Ramo Verde, a military prison in Venezuela, after he was accused of inciting violence during the wave of protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro that took place in February 2014.

Lea este artículo en español.

Here are answers to a number of commonly asked questions surrounding the case of Venezuela's most well-known political prisoner:

Why was Leopoldo López in prison?

The leading opposition politician turned himself over to Venezuelan authorities in Caracas on February 18, 2014, after six days in hiding. He knew then that an arrest warrant had been issued in his name.

What crimes was he charged with?

López was charged with public incitement, damage to property in the first degree, arson in the first degree and criminal association. The crimes of aggravated terrorism and murder brought by the prosecutor's office in the first hearing were thrown out.

Why is López considered a political prisoner?

López is an iconic opposition leader. In 2015, President Nicolas Maduro stated in a public speech that he would be willing to "exchange" López for the Puerto Rican leader Oscar Lopez Rivera: "The only way I would use the presidential authority I have is to put [Leopoldo] on a plane to the U.S., leave him there and get Oscar Lopez Rivera, man for man... that is ... the only way it would occur to me to use my presidential authority to release the monster of Ramo Verde." With that, the government of Nicolas Maduro essentially stated López's status as political prisoner.

Who is believed to have urged Leopoldo López's house arrest?

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was the only person who had the opportunity to talk with López. During each of the three times he visited López in jail, Rodriguez Zapatero was escorted by then foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez and her brother Jorge Rodriguez, the mayor of the municipality of Libertador. During these meetings, the officials urged López to accept house arrest in exchange for cooling the situation in the streets. Delcy Rodriguez visited Ramo Verde prison Friday afternoon, prior to López's transfer.

Is Leopoldo López free?

No. The time López spends at home will not be counted as deprivation of liberty, which will not allow him to deduct from his sentence. So the house arrest will only prolong his nearly 14-year prison sentence.

Could López return to prison?

Yes, he could be sent back to prison by court order. If the leader violates the conditions of his house arrest or a court reverses it, he could return to prison to continue serving his sentence of 13 years and nine months.

What is the reason behind the house arrest imposed on López?

According to the Full Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, the ruling is based on the fact that there were irregularities in the transfer of López's file to an enforcement court. The court also claims the humanitarian measure was granted for health reasons. But López's family has made it clear that he is physically well.

And where does the Supreme Court, which is not recognized by the opposition and the prosecutor's office, stand after this ruling?

This is, without a doubt, the question drawing the most attention. Should the opposition recognize the decision of a Supreme Court that it has branded as illegitimate?

How is López's house arrest good for the government?

It highlights the issue of the division of powers and appears to disprove accusations leveled by the opposition regarding the Supreme Court's lack of independence. Some of the Maduro government's spokespeople, such as the Minister of Popular Power for the Prison Service Iris Varela, reacted by saying that this measure "discredits the right in regards to its claim that there is no division of powers." Meanwhile, the Ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, said: "Here we have working democratic institutions."

Does this measure benefit the Venezuelan opposition?

After 99 days of street protests, the opposition sees this decision as a triumph, and is using it to organize further demonstrations on Sunday. Its spokespeople claim that social pressure got López out of Ramo Verde military prison and made house arrest possible.

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