Source: Foreign Policy
CARACAS — In the nearly year and a half since street protests rocked Caracas, the U.S. press has been kind to Leopoldo López, the 44-year-old jailed leader of Venezuela’s radical opposition. He has been painted as a combination of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and his distant grand uncle, Simón Bolívar, for his magnetic brand of in-your-face politics. Newsweek wrote of his “twinkling chocolate-colored eyes and high cheekbones” and called López a “revolutionary who has it all.” The New York Times published a photo of him, jaw out, fist in the air, in front of a crowd of screaming protesters and gave him a platform on its op-ed page. In New York, when the United Nations met last September, protestors rallied to show support for López, and President Barack Obama listed him among a group of political prisoners from repressive countries such as China and Egypt who “deserve to be free.” López, who has done interviews shirtless, came to embody freedom and democracy for audiences across the globe, with stars from Kevin Spacey to Cher rallying to his cause, while the hashtag #freeleopoldo rocketed across Twitter.
But in Venezuela the picture is far more complicated. López has been in jail since February 2014 on charges of arson, public incitement, and conspiracy related to the first big anti-government protest that year, on Feb. 12, 2014, which left three protesters dead and kicked off weeks of rallies, street blockades, vandalism, and violence. The charges against him, which Amnesty International has called “politically motivated,” could carry a prison sentence of 10 years. Outside the courtroom, the public debate continues to swirl between those who believe López is a freedom fighter facing trumped-up charges and those who believe he is the violent “fascista” the government of President Nicolás Maduro claims.