Yesterday, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López met throngs of supporters at Plaza Brión de Chacaíto in Caracas, mounted a statue of Cuban liberation hero José Martí, and gave a thunderous—and extemporaneous—speech on the death of Venezuelan democracy. When Lopez finished, he delivered himself, draped in a Venezuelan flag and clutching a handful of flowers, into the hands of to the National Guard. He was quickly bundled into an armored vehicle and spirited off to prison. A few days previous, the authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro, bent on neutralizing a charismatic member of the opposition, issued an arrest warrant for Lopez, accusing him of terrorism and suborning murder for his role in organizing anti-government protests.
What follows is a transcript of those comments, translated and published in English for the first time.
As you know, today in Venezuela, we’re living dark times, where criminals are rewarded by the government, and those of us in Venezuela who want peaceful, democratic change following the constitution, are threatened with jail.
Today, I show my face before an unjust justice system, before a corrupt judiciary and before a justice system that does not pass judgments in accordance with the constitution and the laws. But today, I also offer you, Venezuelans, our deepest commitment that, if my imprisonment helps awaken our people, if it is good enough to finally make Venezuela wake up so that the majority of those of us who want change are able to effect that change peacefully and democratically, then this infamous imprisonment that Nicolás Maduro wants, so openly and so cowardly, then for me it will have been worth it. This is the biggest example of how there is no separation of powers in Venezuela. How many times did Maduro say he wanted me in jail? How many times did he say he was giving instructions for our arrests? What is a president doing giving instructions to a district attorney, or to a court? Those actions are the best examples of how there is no justice in Venezuela.
Nevertheless, I do not want to take this step, perhaps into silence for awhile, without stating very clearly the reasons behind this struggle: This struggle is indeed for our youth, this struggle is for our students. This struggle is for those who have been repressed, this struggle is for those who are imprisoned. This fight, brothers and sisters, is for all the people of Venezuela, who are suffering today. Our people have to endure long lines and shortages; there are no jobs and there is no future for young people because of a failed model, a model that is not our own, but exported by other countries, one that has nothing to do with the brave people of Venezuela. Brothers and sisters, we have to find our way out of this disaster together. While our solution has to be peaceful and constitutional, it also needs to be on the streets because we no longer have any free media to express ourselves in Venezuela. If the media remain silent, then let the streets speak out! Let the streets speak out with people! Let the streets speak out peacefully! And let the streets speak out in democracy!
“If my imprisonment helps awaken our people, it will have been worth it.”
Now, I will go to the police and National Guard’s barricade. Believe me, I put a lot of thought into this. I want to tell you that in the past few days I had a lot of time to think things over and to analyze things, to listen to the radio and watch TV, read things I had not read in a while and to talk to my family. One of the options I had was to leave the country, but I am never leaving Venezuela! The other option I was faced with was to stay in hiding, in the shadows; but that choice may have made some people doubt—even some of those present here today—that we had something to hide. But we have nothing to hide! I have not committed any crime! I am not a criminal! I simply have no reason to hide! So the only option left for me is to show my face. And so I ask you, from the bottom of my heart, that when I go to the other side and turn myself in, you remain peaceful. We have no choice. I do not want violence. This is why I ask for your understanding; I ask you to organize yourselves and to be disciplined.
I want to thank everyone, but someone in particular, someone who has given me much strength and who is my greatest pillar that allows me to be here with you: My wife Lilian, who is right here with us.
Well, brothers and sisters, I ask you to continue this struggle and stay on the streets, to embrace our right to protest. But do so peacefully and without resorting to violence. I ask that all of us here today, all Venezuelans who want change, to get informed, educated and organized, and to carry out a non-violent protest, a massive demonstration of freewill, hearts and souls of the people who want change. But without hurting thy neighbor. I ask you not to lose faith, and I am sure that in the name of my children, my daughter Manuela, my son Leopoldo—and like Luis Eloy Blanco once said, “He who has fathered one child, becomes a father for every child.”
In the name of every child in Venezuela, I swear we will prevail and soon we will have a free and democratic Venezuela.
Translation: A. Piaggio