Regime foe free from prison cell
CARACAS, VENEZUELA» Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was released from prison and placed under house arrest Saturday after more than three years in military lockup, a shock reversal that fueled hopes for a broader amnesty for dozens of jailed activists as the country slides ever deeper into political turmoil.
Venezuela’s governmentstacked Supreme Court said in a statement that it had granted Lopez the “humanitarian measures” for health reasons and “serious signs of irregularities” in the handling of the case that it did not specify.
A euphoric Lopez briefly greeted a few dozen supporters gathered outside his home in Caracas in the afternoon.
Climbing atop a wall dressed in a white shirt, he clutched and kissed a Venezuelan flag and raised his right fist in a show of defiance.
Lopez vowed that he’s prepared to return to jail rather than give up his fight to remove President Nicolas Maduro.
“This is a step in the march toward freedom,” Lopez said in a statement read by close ally and lawmaker Freddy Guevara.
“I carry no resentment, nor will I give up my beliefs. My position against this regime is firm as are my convictions to fight for a real peace, coexistence, change and freedom.”
As his backers celebrated, relatives of dozens of other jailed activists gathered at a Caracas jail in hopes that their loved ones might be released too in the coming hours.
Speculation that Lopez’s transfer may have been part of a larger deal was sparked in part by a government truth commission statement saying that as part of its work to defuse tensions, it had asked the judicial system to evaluate applying “alternative formulas” for those imprisoned for violent acts.
The opposition has been demanding the release of dozens of activists it consider political prisoners in order to initiate talks aimed at resolving a political crisis that has left more than 90 people dead and hundreds injured. But Lopez, the most prominent and defiant of those behind bars, was seen as the last person likely to leave jail in the event of any government concessions.
The 46-year-old former Caracas-area mayor was sentenced in 2015 to nearly 14 years in prison for inciting violence during antigovernment protests in which three people died and dozens were wounded.
“We spoke for like 40 minutes. He’s hugging his children, he’s with his wife. .... I’m sure they are celebrating,” Lopez’s father, who shares his son’s name, said from exile in Spain.
He said in recent days Lopez had been isolated in his prison cell without food and attributed his son’s transfer to the considerable international pressure on Maduro’s government.
“He told me himself recently: ‘Dad, it’s always darkest right before the break of dawn,’ ” he added.