Leopoldo Lopez with a dash of Bolivar

I wrote this article for the Latin American Herald Tribune three years ago, give or take. It ran, but not in this version. Now that President Barack Obama has asked that Leopoldo Lopez be freed, I think it is pertinent to republish this version, warts and all. Enjoy!

Imagine if John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been a descendant of George Washington. Now meet Leopoldo Lopez: A patrician, marathon-running, early-forties “Caraqueño”, a Harvard-educated philosopher and economist who is married to a former (and gorgeous) professional athlete/media personality and who, to top it all off, is also related to Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Venezuela, the Liberator of Colombia, the personal idol of President Hugo Chávez (who renamed Venezuela into “The Bolivarian Republic of…”) the freedom fighter after whom they named a country (Bolivia). Yes, Lopez is the Venezuelan version of a George Washington-related JFK.

Lopez is getting ready to challenge Hugo Chavez for the Venezuelan Presidency come October 7, 2012. For three years Lopez was barred from seeking elected office on charges of corruption, but only last week the Inter American Human Rights Court ordered Venezuela to lift the ban. Now Lopez is free to run more than just marathons.

The Latin American Herald Tribune managed to get a sit-down, face to face interview with Lopez in his Caracas office, to talk about street crime (Lopez said it will be his first priority), but also about increasing oil production (using a remarkably different approach to the one being implemented by Chavez), his relation to Simon Bolivar and how being barred from seeking a mayor’s office in 2008 has now resulted in a viable Presidential bid.

– Latin American Herald Tribune: Well, the Inter American court said days ago that you can run for office in Venezuela. What is now the next step for you?

– Leopoldo Lopez: The next step is to win the primary elections. And the next after that is to beat Chavez. I have been legally enabled by the Inter American Human Rights Court, which is the highest ranking court in the continent, after exhausting every instance in Venezuela.

– LAHT: Would you say barring you from seeking office in 2008 was a strategy that backfired for the Chavez administration?

– LL:  Well, I just wanted to be the mayor of Caracas, you know? To do for Caracas what I did for Chacao (Lopez is a former mayor of Chacao, an affluent Caracas borough).

– LAHT: But the government prevented you from running and now you are here…

– LL: But yes, they were afraid of an electoral victory, since in 2008 I had 70% popularity. So, instead, I ended up travelling all over Venezuela, articulating a fresh political party that is Voluntad Popular. (In January, Venezuela’s electoral authority CNE recognized Voluntad Popular as a political party).

– LAHT: And do you think the Chavez administration will just take that sitting down?

– LL: Well, the only thing the government can do is comply.

– LAHT: What is your relation to Simon Bolivar, Liberator of Venezuela?

– LL: Well, it is a known fact that the Libertador did not have any sons, at least they haven’t been recorded in history, but I am related on the side of Juana de Bolivar, one of the Liberator’s sisters, I am seventh generation.

– LAHT: In the primary elections, scheduled for February 12, 2012, a single opposition candidate will be chosen to run against Chavez, so, you will be competing against six other candidates. Let’s say you win the primary elections. Then what?

– LL: If I win the primary elections I will assemble a team that will take us to victory come October 7, 2012, in the Presidential elections. And once we win on October 7, we will assume the citizenry’s safety as our first priority.

– LAHT: So, fighting crime is the priority for Leopoldo Lopez

– LL: That is the priority for all Venezuelans, everybody is saying it but the government does not listen.

– LAHT: Murders shot up from some 4,000 in 1998 to more than 19,000 last year…

– LL: And that’s a tragedy for Venezuelans, it is something that has taken away their hope and their capacity to dream. And the government is responsible for the explosion in violence of the last few years. ¿How can I not say that , if the government has generated a violent discourse and has not developed a public safety policy?

– LAHT: The incoming government will have to deal with 26 arbitration procedures against Venezuela, the most prominent of which have been caused by nationalizations in the oil industry.

– LL: Yes, well, we need to generate trust, and that can only happen if the rule of law is fully observed. For instance, we have the aim of doubling oil production over a six year period. And what we need to increase production is trust, which will allow us to seek out the best societies, national and international, to develop the oil potential. Trust means to democratize opportunities inside the oil industry and to end uncertainty in oil contracts.