Judgement and Verdict: 13 Years for Leopoldo Lopez
It’s official. Leopoldo Lopez is probably the only favoured heir of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie to have been sentenced by the Venezuelan justice system in recent years. It is a fact that in Venezuela no one is untouchable. There are no surnames or birthmarks which guarantee absolute impunity.
The Public Prosecution has presented its conclusions for the cases of Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza and the other four youths involved in the acts of violence which occurred on February 12th 2014. It has also pronounced its sentence for Lopez Mendoza, having proven him guilty of crimes of incitement to public violence, association to commit crimes, and promoting damage and arson. Marco Coello and Christian Holdack were also accused and, following 70 hearings and the presentation of 108 pieces of evidence, those who were sentenced today were proven guilty.
A Crime Carried Out in Full View of the Entire Country
Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza has been sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison, minus the time that he has already spent behind bars. For more than two hours on August 31st, the national public attorneys no. 2 and 41, Narda Sanabria and Franklin Nieves respectively, argued the legal theory of the case, what had been proven throughout the trial and juridic sentence applicable to each of the accused. On the night of September 10th, Judge Susana Barrientos announced Lopez’s sentence and ordered that his incarceration be carried out at Ramo Verde (military prison).
Before publicising the sentence, representatives of the Public Prosecution emphasised what had been signalled by two discourse analysis specialists who had participated in the trial and who had testified to the fact that the political leader had made announcements in the media and social media which clearly goaded his followers into committing acts of violence in the streets and into repudiating the national government and the Venezuelan state institutions.
During the acts of February 12th 2014, which kindled the barricades across Venezuela in full view of the whole country, Leopoldo Lopez Mendozo called on his followers (to act) in what was far from being a spontaneous middle class reaction in the country against the Venezuelan government.
The barricades then followed with their reign of terror, killing indiscriminately, walling in and confining thousands of families to barricades in urbanisations throughout cities across the country. But the concrete acts for which Lopez Mendoza was sentenced were those relating to his notorious public behaviour in the instigation of the violence, which led to the attack against the headquarters of the Public Prosecution and those who happened to be there just before it was set on fire.
In this respect, through 70 hearings and the presentation of 108 pieces of evidence, the public prosecutors proved that Lopez had encouraged his followers (to commit these acts), unleashing a “negative euphoria amongst his sympathisers” which led to the attack on the Public Prosecution. This event generated panic amongst more than 800 workers and their children who were in the building.
Some Points on Leopoldo Lopez and his Sentence
Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza’s defence was made up of some of the highest paid criminal lawyers in Venezuela. It couldn’t really have been any other way, considering that this was a true pedigreed member of the bourgeoisie, a much different image from that which he tried to project throughout his trial, i.e that of a “persecuted” and “political prisoner”. Never, in any trial of the many actual political prisoners in the US, has the accused ever been represented by the most rigorous and expensive defence, courtesy of the most costly lawyers in the country.
It doesn’t stop there. Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza is essentially the only son of the true wealthy elite of Venezuela to be sentenced in recent years. One could even go as far as to say since the Federal War. In fact, excluding some corrupt rich men who were tried in the twentieth century, Lopez is perhaps the only aristocrat from a wealthy lineage who will pay for a crime before the justice system.
Lopez is great nephew to Eugenio Mendoza Senior, an obscenely rich businessman and the owner of Cargill, the building company contracted during the era of the Democratic Action (AD) party which made an immense fortune through doing business with the government. Throughout the country there are private housing complexes built by the “Mendoza Foundation” for the middle classes. Eugenio Senior was also owner of the Guaira Bank, Venepal (paper factory) and the cement company Vencemos.
This family is from the same caste as the Mendozas of Polar, direct descendants from Lorenzo Alejandro Mendoza Fleury, the grandfather of the current Lorenzo Mendoza who today is in charge of Polar, who is also a relative of Lopez. Leopoldo’s mother, Antonieta Mendoza, is the former director of PDVSA from where she financed the birth of Justice First (Lopez’s first political party) through corruption.
A great part of Senior Eugenio’s family fortune was removed or expatriated from the country by the family, after businesses like Cargill and Vencemos passed from the hands of transnational consortiums to the Venezuelan state, which bought them at extortionate prices during the AD era, only for them to then be privatised again for next to nothing.
Leopoldo Lopez was defended by the lawyer Juan Carlos Gutierrez, amongst others, who became famous for having defended the Venezuelan Hanibal Lecter, the murderer and rapist, teacher, politician, psychiatrist and former presidential candidate, Edmundo Chirinos, throughout his trial for the murder of the student Roxana Vargas.
Let’s take a brief pause here for reflection. Basically, the “logic” of law and the legitimate right to a defence is based on the premise that, using whatever viable legal trick available, a lawyer can virtually twist the arm of the justice system in order for murderers and criminals to walk free. That is the cynicism of the legal profession, which is plagued by tremendously ambitious professionals. It is the same logic which enables a lawyer to take money from Pablo Escobar in order to defend him and also to be simultaneously exonerated from blame.
In the legal world, a “successful” lawyer can be classified as such by his ability to put Charles Manson back on the streets. And it is this extremely well paid “logic” which inspired Edmundo Chirinos’ lawyer to defend Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza. In this world of pseudo-professionalism for “justice,” it doesn’t matter whether the perpetrators are made to answer before the justice system and their victims, but rather about getting them off the hook no matter what.
In 2008 during the trial of Edmundo Chirinos, Gutierrez was rigorous in delaying the case by objecting to its very existence, downplaying forensic evidence, downplaying witness testimonies and even casting aspersions on the legitimacy of Roxana Vargas’s diary, the murdered student, in which she outlined her romantic relationship to the man who ended up being her executioner. Faced with all the elements of proof, Chirinos was sentenced to 20 years in jail, and Gutierrez managed to win the benefit of house arrest for Chirinos, who would die shortly afterwards.
That’s how the anti-logic of the “justice” system works. For the defence, it is about making something look like what it is not. The trial against Leopoldo Lopez went on for much longer than expected, given that the defence’s strategy was based on exhausting expert witnesses for more than a year. There were expert witnesses, semiologists, who were responsible for carrying out analyses of the speeches and tweets published by Leopoldo Lopez before and during the events of February 12th 2014. They concluded in their investigations, that were duly backed up, that Leopoldo Lopez had instigated violence and that he had participated in a public performance in front of the entire country which ended with a violent attack against a building and the people inside.
The defence’s questioning sessions were marathon-like, they lasted from 11 to 14 hours, even until the early hours of the morning. They consisted in reiterating the same biased questions, in spite of objections, in order to produce inconsistencies in testimonies and reports.
Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, who is a lawyer, actively participated in his own defence. He interrogated, hectored and even intimidated expert witnesses and those present on the 12th of February 2014. Lopez used techniques such as psychological exhaustion against several witnesses, putting forward hypothetical situations in which he would be President of the Republic and, in that scenario, the witnesses could be subject to counter-suits and legal actions for having participated in a case against him. According to Lopez, these witnesses had taken advantage of the nature of his profession in order to smear his good name through a trial. Basically, Lopez and his lawyers tried to hinder the testimonies of many witnesses.
On the other hand, the public prosecutors suffered an array of attacks outside of the courts. Intimidation, anonymous phone calls and threats against them and their families. These prosecuting lawyers were obliged to accept state protection, having understood that they were being confronted by potential threats from factors of the Venezuelan fascist rightwing, who have shown themselves to be murderous and criminal.
Let’s not forget what Diosdado Cabello revealed at the beginning of the final stage of the trial against Lopez, who stated in front of state civil servants: “When I’m president, then you’ll see”.
Victim or Victimiser?
The trial against Lopez laid bare huge paradoxes, given the fact that in the media it was presented as a “political hearing,” whilst in reality it was one of the most difficult battles that the public prosecution has ever had to wage against historically untouchable interests in Venezuela. Basically, wage-earning public prosecutors, confronted by the most costly private defence in Venezuela, managed to demonstrate what everyone can see: Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza committed crimes in front of the entire country, he has been judged and sentenced. This is an unprecedented incident in the history of the Venezuelan penal system.
Lopez Mendoza has been inscribed in Venezuelan history as a horrendous episode that under no circumstances should be re-written. From here on out the battle for truth and justice will not take place in the courts, but rather it will return to the streets as a national debate. In the opposition camp they are already calling for violence. The judgement and the sentence are already a source of real political confrontation, of two national discourses that are counterposed. We cannot let those who seek violence impose their pseudo-political game. Justice has spoken, without partiality, with autonomy, transparency and severity, in spite of the most strenuous political, national, and international economic pressure. Justice has been enforced, in spite of the pressure from fascism and its killers. The sentence against Lopez Mendoza is proportional and exact in nature of the characteristics of his crimes. Justice has been done.
Bravo for the victims of the Barricades. Leopoldo Lopez is guilty and has been sentenced. Justice has been done. No more impunity!