Free Leopoldo: An Alum’s Fight for Political Freedom Through Peaceful Protest

“The perpetrators of this injustice can only win if the world turns a blind eye. But if people speak, act and shine a spotlight on what is happening, change will come.” These are the words Leopoldo Lopez’93 H’07, shared in an open letter to Kenyon, which circulated via Student-Info on October 21.

Lopez is a politician and activist in Venezuela, where political tensions have caused struggles to obtain even basic resources. Newsweek called Lopez “the most prominent face of the opposition.” He is currently detained by the Venezuelan government. The warrant for his arrest was received after his involvement with non-violent protests, whose goals include achieving a better governmental system. These protests were intervened by pro-government militia. This resulted in deaths, both on the side of the protesters and of the militia, all of which were blamed on Lopez.  After the warrant for his arrest was issued, Lopez went into hiding, where he sent out a video, encouraging peaceful protests to continue.  "I have nothing to fear, I have not committed any crime.  If there is some decision to illegally arrest me, well, that is where I will be.”

Two days later he appeared in public to turn himself in and was greeted by a huge crowd dressed in white. Before turning himself in, he addressed the crowd, saying, “This is the first step in the construction of the road for change and it must, by necessity, be a peaceful process."

Despite an attempt via the United Nation to release Leopoldo due to unfair detainment, and reference to his release via President Obama, eight months later, Leopoldo Lopez is still in jail, without bail. On Wednesday, October 22, Leo’s sister, Adriana Lopez Vermut, and Kenyon Alum Rob Gluck’93, addressed a full Rosse Auditorium about these issues. Before they begun, Gluck added a bit more humanity to this imprisonment, recalling tales of his times at Kenyon with Leo, who reportedly rode a motorcycle purchased in Mt. Vernon through the halls of Lewis his freshman year. They painted a portrait of Leo as a man, a Kenyon student so much like us, yet so selfless that he gave up his own freedom for the sake of others.

“I made this choice because I believed it would create an opportunity to more directly confront the lies, abuses of power, and the need for change at the very root of the system.” Writes Leo in his letter to Kenyon,   “I have now seen first-hand the decay of Venezuelan justice being suffered by thousands of Venezuelans. Manipulation, the delay of process, and political control of judges and prosecutors in their provisional roles makes them dependent, vulnerable servants of a system and not of justice. For me, these are now more than mere facts and figures, and knowing this infuses me with an even greater moral and patriotic urgency to pursue change.”

 To learn more about Leo’s story, visit Free Leo shirts, which support Leopoldo and his campaign, are available for sale at the Kenyon College Bookstore.