Leopoldo López, the Charismatic Face of Venezuela’s Opposition

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

With the Venezuelan tricolor flag draped around his suntanned neck, opposition leader Leopoldo López, 42, stood atop the statue of José Martí in the Chacaíto neighborhood of eastern Caracas, finishing his seven-minute speech to a crowd of tens of thousands of cheering supporters. After reminding them that they are fighting for “the young, the students … the entire people of Venezuela” and calling for a “nonviolent struggle of the masses,” he took his leave, shouting into a handheld mic, “Very soon, we will have a free and democratic Venezuela! God bless you!”

His wife, Lilian Tintori, placed a crucifix around his neck. He climbed down into a crowd gone wild with chants of ¡Sí, se puede! (Yes, we can!) and proceeded to turn himself over to the authorities, who may charge him with murder and terrorism for the deaths of two people six days before, when a demonstration turned violent. López says he committed no crime and is being detained unjustly. As of press time, a judicial hearing to decide charges against López had not concluded.

With his movie-star good looks and his impassioned, inspiring rhetoric, it’s easy to see why the late President Hugo Chávez had him banned in 2008 from holding public office. (Chávez accused López of abusing public funds, but his true offense seems to have been the threat he presented to Chávez’s popularity.) López had by then served eight years as the well-liked mayor of Chacao, a prosperous commercial district in eastern Caracas—the sort of place where Chávez had no support to lose. Chávez’s bastion was always the poor; López is the hope of the beleaguered opposition, which is strongest among the middle and upper classes.

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