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  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez

    Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 July 2017

Lopez was the leader of the deadly "guarimbas" that left 43 innocent people dead in Venezuela in 2014.

Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been granted house arrest after more than three years in jail, the country's Supreme Court said on Saturday, citing health problems.

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"Maikel Moreno, president of the (Supreme Court), has granted a humanitarian measure that is in compliance with the law," the court tweeted early on Saturday.

Lopez, 46, studied in private and Ivy League schools in the United States, having graduated from the private secondary boarding school, the Hun School of Princeton in New Jersey, as well as Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. In his own words, and to his credit, many years before the Occupy movement popularized the term, Lopez acknowledged his own class background.

“I belong to one percent of the privileged people, and achieving a good education will hopefully enable me to do something to help my country,” Lopez told a student paper while studying in Princeton.

After finishing his studies in the United States, Lopez returned to Venezuela, taking up a lucrative analyst position at the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, PDVSA, oil company between 1996-1999. During this time, the semi-privatized company was a boon for those like Lopez, who had connections with Venezuela’s political establishment. An investigation concluded that Lopez “stole money and trafficked influences" while syphoning resources to his political movement. Lopez’s actions led to his suspension from office.

Lopez later participated in the attempted coup against former president Hugo Chavez in 2002 and was caught on video illegally detaining then-Minister of Interior and Justice Ramon Rodriguez Chacin during the failed ouster. He was also found guilty of corruption charges by Chavez's administration, but was later pardoned by the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution.

In 2014, Lopez, one-time mayor of the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao, made international headlines when he called for, planned and then promoted violent street blockades in Venezuela.

The blockades, which became known as “Guarimbas,” claimed the lives of 43 people, injured hundreds and caused billions of dollars in damages to public buildings and infrastructure. He was arrested, tried, condemned and sent to prison that same year. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, who has since become one of the lead opposition figures against President Nicolas Maduro, helped lead the prosecution case against Lopez.

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Maduro, who for years refused to pardon Lopez, has described him as a "dangerous terrorist" who sought to overthrow him through street violence.

Despite this, the opposition has long called Lopez a "political prisoner" and leaders around the world have pressed for his release, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

Since her husband's imprisonment, Lilian Tintori has embarked on an international campaign to smear the democratically-elected government of Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution.

Lopez's Popular Will party boycotted the dialogue process aimed at smoothing tensions between the government and the opposition, despite some sectors of the latter agreeing to sit down for the talks. The group has also called for citizens to boycott the upcoming National Constituent Assembly called by Maduro to restore peace in the country, as oppossiton-led protests have led to violent clashes, where at least 94 people have been killed.

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