Leopoldo López: scion of Venezuelan elite dedicated to burying Chavismo

The opposition leader behind Juan Guaidó’s rise has been under house arrest since 2017, but is an experienced schemer

Leopoldo López has been under house arrest since 2017, but he played a key role in Juan Guaidó’s sudden ascent from the political margin to Venezuela’s would-be president.

López claims to be distant relative of Simón Bolívar, the general who liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule in the 19th century. Like many members of the Venezuelan elite, he was educated in the United States, at a boarding school in New Jersey, and later at Harvard, where he attended the Kennedy school of government.

Returning to Venezuela, he cofounded the political party Justice First with other prominent politicians Julio Borges and Henrique Capriles in 1992, the same year Hugo Chávez launched an attempted coup d’état.

López later broke with Borges and Capriles, and went on to found People’s Will. “He sets up political parties then leaves them when they grow beyond his control,” said a Venezuelan analyst with connections to López.

People’s Will is a member of the Socialist International, though like many Venezuelan opposition groups it has put more focus on hardline anti-Chavista rhetoric than on concrete policy platforms.

López was elected mayor of the well-off Chacao district of Caracas in 2000 and later re-elected, serving until 2008, when he was barred from re-election by Chávez.

López has been accused of involvement in the short-lived coup that briefly removed Chávez from power in 2002.

He was arrested in February 2014 after leading protests against Chávez’s handpicked successor Nicolás Maduro, and sent to the maximum security Ramo Verde prison outside Caracas, where he reportedly spent eight months in solitary confinement.

The move backfired on Maduro, as López became a cause célèbre, his face emblazoned on posters and T-shirts at future anti-government protests.

As he languished in jail, his wife, Lilian Tintori, acted as the go-between for him and other opposition figures.

“When he was in prison he sent me in his place to speak with other party leaders, and I would relay their messages to him. It was constant and it was effective and it’s how People’s Will has become so united,” Tintori said.

In 2017, López was transferred to house arrest, which allowed him to communicate directly with other party members, including Guaidó, while his wife and other surrogates were dispatched to meetings with leaders and diplomats around the world.

It was López who ensured Guaidó would lead the national assembly when Maduro began his second term in early January, placing his man at the centre of a geopolitical storm when the US and a host of other democracies recognised him as the country’s legitimate president.


Joe Parkin Daniels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López hands himself in to police

Harvard-educated politician denies charges of terrorism for his alleged role in violent anti-government protests

Virginia López in Caracas and Jonathan Watts

19, Feb, 2014 @2:46 AM

Article image
Venezuela violence continues after arrest of Leopoldo López

Armed forces and government-backed militia harden tactics against protesters channelling anger over crime and inflation

Virginia López in Caracas and Jonathan Watts

20, Feb, 2014 @5:44 AM

Article image
Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo López jailed for nearly 14 years
López is found guilty in a closed-door trial, decried as politically motivated, of inciting violence in his role as the leader of a 2014 protest movement

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogota

11, Sep, 2015 @3:51 AM

Article image
Venezuela gears up for more violence as Leopoldo López plans march
Opposition leader, who is wanted for arrest, calls on supporters to join him for anti-government demonstration in Caracas

Virginia López in Caracas and Jonathan Watts

18, Feb, 2014 @4:49 PM

Article image
Venezuelan president expels top US diplomat
Nicolás Maduro has said he will expel US diplomat Todd Robinson for allegedly conspiring against the Venezuelan government

Staff and agencies in Caracas

22, May, 2018 @6:29 PM

Article image
Ecuador targets Venezuelan migrants after woman's death
Crackdown announced amid outrage over killing as Venezuelan man is held

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

21, Jan, 2019 @7:23 PM

Article image
Venezuelan city under effective curfew after mass looting
Some 400 people arrested in Cumaná after 20 shops ransacked with fFood riots and looting occurring in several cities in June

Stephen Gibbs in Caracas

15, Jun, 2016 @8:47 PM

Article image
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó ejected from Colombia
Guaidó lands in Miami after failed bid to attend summit hosted by leftwing president, with return to Venezuela looking unlikely

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

25, Apr, 2023 @7:59 PM

Article image
Venezuelan migrants live in shadows on Caribbean's sunshine islands
Curaçao hosts 16,000 undocumented Venezuelans who live under threat of summary deportation and many more have fled crisis at home to Trinidad and Tobago

Bram Ebus in Willemstad, Curaçao

13, Nov, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Venezuelan president Maduro calls for new constitution amid further clashes
Maduro says new constitution will restore peace to embattled nation but opposition leaders urge supporters to ‘disobey such craziness’

Staff and agencies in Caracas

01, May, 2017 @10:08 PM