After spending more than 18 months in prison in Venezuela, Leopoldo López ’93 H’07 was convicted of inciting violence as the leader of anti-government protests and sentenced to another 13 years. His arrest and imprisonment have been widely criticized by international observers including Amnesty International, President Barack Obama, the New York Times and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, Desmond Tutu.
Members of the Kenyon community spoke out strongly against his imprisonment and sentencing. “It’s a series of trumped up charges. He doesn’t belong there,” said George McCarthy, professor of sociology and López’s faculty advisor. “It’s a sad day for his country, an even sadder day for his family.”
Royal Rhodes, the Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies, echoed the sentiment. “Like all those at Kenyon who have known Leo López and members of his family, I am heartsick, not only regarding his unjust conviction on politically motivated charges, but also for the people of Venezuela and what this says about the current perversion of judicial independence and due process.”
López, the former mayor of Chacao, the wealthiest district of Caracas, formed Voluntad Popular, a political party that took a confrontational nonviolent stance against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and, after Chávez’s death in 2013, current President Nicolás Maduro. At an anti-government rally in protest of the flagging economy and rampant crime on February 12, 2014, two protesters and a government supporter were shot and killed.
López was arrested and subjected to a trial that Human Rights Watch called a “sham.” He has repeatedly denied the charges against him and says he only called for peaceful protests.
A group of Kenyon alumni, led by Rob Gluck ’93, have worked to raise awareness of López’s story.
“It is obviously terrible news, although I suspect that Leo has been prepared for this from the day he presented himself to the regime 19 months ago,” said Gluck, managing partner at High Lantern Group, a communications strategy firm. “His goal was to expose the utter corruption of Venezuela’s government, and with this sentence, that corruption is in full view of the world.”
Last year, Gluck brought López’s sister, Adriana López Vermut, to campus to speak about efforts to free her brother. In May, Kenyon awarded López the Humanitarian Service Award during Reunion Weekend. His father, Leopoldo López Gil, accepted the award on his son’s behalf.
Rhodes offered reminders of López’s strength of character throughout his ordeal. “He is a young leader of deep spiritual conviction who has dedicated his life in service to his beloved nation, and that love of justice can never be suppressed. It rises up beyond the power of oppressors to imprison it.”
Gluck said the sentencing does not defeat López’s supporters. “We'll continue our efforts with even greater energy to raise international support for Leo,” said Gluck. “We’re not stopping until he is free.”