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article imageLeopoldo Lopez, a stone in the shoe of chavismo

By Alexander Martinez (AFP)     Sep 11, 2015 in World

Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests, heads the radical wing of the Venezuelan opposition.

The 44-year-old economist with a master's degree from Harvard University was convicted Thursday for inciting violence in protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro that left 43 dead and about 3,000 wounded between February and May 2014.

He has been held since February 2014.

Lopez, who forged his career as an opponent of late president Hugo Chavez (1999-2013), conducted a monthlong hunger strike that ended June 23, when the authorities announced that legislative elections would take place on December 6.

As mayor of Chacao (2000-2008), one of the wealthiest subdivisions of the capital Caracas, Lopez was seen as a dynamic, efficient leader and polls placed him well to run as a presidential candidate. But he was politically disqualified twice.

Leopoldo Lopez  an ardent opponent of Venezuela's socialist government  was charged with inciti...
Leopoldo Lopez, an ardent opponent of Venezuela's socialist government, was charged with inciting violence during anti-government protests
Juan Barreto, AFP/File

In 2014, his strategy dubbed "the exit" that sought Maduro's resignation under pressure from massive street demonstrations that degenerated into violence put Lopez on the map internationally.

Accompanied by a crowd and media hype that only gained him further notoriety, Lopez surrendered to the authorities on February 18, 2014 after an arrest warrant was issued against him.

In his trademark provocative style, Lopez addressed Maduro via Twitter after the arrest warrant was issued, saying: "Don't you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana? I tell you, the truth is on our side."

- 'I am innocent' -

In that same vein, Lopez proclaimed his innocence during Thursday's closed-door hearing to which the press had no access, according to members of his Popular Will party.

The wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez  Lilian Tintori  during a press conference in Ca...
The wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Lilian Tintori during a press conference in Caracas on September 10, 2015
Federico Parra, AFP

"If the sentence condemns me, you will be more afraid to read it than I will be to hear it, because you know that I'm innocent," Lopez defiantly told the judge according to David Smolansky, a Caracas neighborhood mayor who was at the hearing.

Lopez, married to former television host Lilian Tintori with two children, will serve his sentence at the Ramo Verde military prison on the outskirts of Caracas where he has been held.

The hunger strike and last year's protests highlighted marked differences between Lopez and other members of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable, MUD, especially Henrique Capriles, whom Maduro narrowly defeated in 2013 presidential elections.

Lopez is a "political actor showing more emotions than others " political analyst Colette ...
Lopez is a "political actor showing more emotions than others," political analyst Colette Capriles told AFP
Juan Barreto, AFP/File

Capriles distanced himself from the demonstrations, pushing instead for people to turn out at the polls and asking Lopez to end his hunger strike.

Lopez is a "political actor showing more emotions than others," political analyst Colette Capriles told AFP, saying the hunger strike was part of a strategy for Lopez to differentiate himself from Capriles and other opposition leaders.

"Capriles aims to build a leadership that attracts Chavistas, so they don't feel afraid. His strategy is much more successful in the long run."

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