Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opposition leader, was released from a military prison on Saturday, July 8, to serve the remainder of his 14-year sentence under house arrest. According to the Supreme Court, Lopez was granted house arrest due to health reason. Lopez’s lawyer said that he arrived at his home in Caracas at dawn on Saturday. Opposition supporters said that the ruling is a sign of weakness from the government of President Nicolás Maduro. It is unclear if Lopez’s transfer to house arrest will appease opposition supporters.
Lopez was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for “inciting violence” in February 2014 after calling for anti-government protests. He is the leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and the former mayor of the Caracas municipality. The Maduro government blamed him for months-long protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 people dead during violent clashes with security forces. His release from prison has been a key demand of the country’s opposition and from members of the international community.
Violent and often deadly clashes between protesters and security forces continue to occur on a near-daily basis in Venezuela, most notably in the capital city of Caracas. At least 75 people have been killed and 1500 more injured due to social unrest since the beginning of the current wave of anti-government protests began in early April of this year. The vast majority of the victims have been killed by security forces, who have repeatedly been accused of excessive use of force, and the situation continues to escalate with no resolution in sight. Pro-government militias are also reportedly behind some of the violence, including another attempted attack against the AN building in Caracas on June 24.
These developments follow on a long series of progressively worsening crises affecting the restive country in recent months and years, including a breakdown of the democratic system, major shortages of gasoline, medications, food, and other basic necessities, an alarming spike in rates of violent crime, massive inflation and economic recession, and a resurgence of disease. Protesters regularly demand early elections, the resignation of President Nicolás Maduro, the release of political prisoners, and humanitarian assistance from the government.
Individuals in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities are advised to limit travel, to strictly avoid all protests and roadblocks due to the likelihood of violence, and to closely monitor the situation.