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Jailed Protest Leader Urges Venezuelans To Keep Demonstrating

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (in white shirt) as he turned himself over to police on Tuesday in Caracas.
Cristian Hernandez
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (in white shirt) as he turned himself over to police on Tuesday in Caracas.

In a video released Wednesday, imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez urges his supporters in Venezuela to continue pressing for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, Reuters reports from Caracas.

"Authorities have accused Lopez of inciting clashes that have led to at least four deaths over the past week and of attempting to destabilize Maduro's government," The Associated Press writes. "The specific charges will be disclosed [Wednesday] at a closed court hearing before a judge in downtown Caracas."

Lopez turned himself in on Tuesday in a dramatic scene witnessed by thousands of his supporters. "If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice!" he shouted from a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in a Caracas plaza.

The protest leader, the AP adds, "has emerged in recent months as a new, more aggressive face of Venezuela's opposition. He told thousands of cheering supporters who watched his surrender on Tuesday that he does not fear imprisonment if it will help undo what he considers the damage done by 15 years of socialist rule launched by the late Hugo Chavez."

Lopez and the demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest against government corruption, violent crime, high inflation and the nation's poor infrastructure. Maduro and his aides have tried to blame the U.S. for inspiring the opposition. Earlier this week, three U.S. diplomats were expelled from the country. The State Department says any such allegations are "baseless and false. ... Venezuela's political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide."

In the video apparently made before he was taken into custody, part of which Reuters has posted here, Lopez says to his supporters that "Venezuela today, more than ever, needs you who are watching this."

Lopez is 42. According to the AP:

"His fiery rhetoric and elite background — he studied economics in the U.S. on a swimming scholarship and speaks fluent English — make him an improbable figure to build bridges with the poor Venezuelans who elected Maduro and who, while increasingly dissatisfied with his handling of the economy, jealously guard their social gains under Chavez.

" 'The middle-class (protesters) on the street don't represent the masses,' said Carlos Romero, a political scientist at Central University of Venezuela."

But Bloomberg BusinessWeek says that:

"Sporadic protests have plagued Maduro's government from the beginning, but the murder, in January, of a beloved television star and beauty queen, Monica Spear (along with her British husband), proved a turning point, highlighting Venezuela's status as one of the most homicide-afflicted countries on earth and sparking demands that the government protect its citizens."

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Mark Memmott
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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