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  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez talks to the media outside Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase

    Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez talks to the media outside Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 May 2019

Using a variety of tactics to undermine his opponents, the savvy businessman spent several years attempting to cement his family's presence in the Venezuelan political scene.

In the history of U.S.-backed failed coup attempts in Latin America, the so-called "Operation Freedom" will be remembered as a military operation which had only one real achievement: moving opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from his house arrest to the streets of Caracas.

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This politician was a leading figure in the 2014 far-right violent demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro. Due to his participation in criminal incitement activities. He was initially sentenced to 14-years in prison but was later released to house arrest in 2017.

After his participation in Tuesday's coup attempt, Lopez entered the Chilean embassy in Caracas. Later, however, he moved to the Spanish embassy where he remains so far but it is not known if he has applied for asylum in the European country.

Leopoldo Lopez is no stranger to Venezuelan politics and one could even argue he was groomed for a leadership role at a young age. Nevertheless, despite these factors, the politician has failed to reach the highest echelon in the Bolivarian Republic.

Early Years

Born into a wealthy family in Caracas on April 29, 1971, Lopez spent his early years in Venezuela before moving to New Jersey to study at the prestigious Hun School in Princeton. Following the completion of his high school education, Lopez began his university studies at the liberal arts institution, Kenyon College, in Ohio. Eventually, he would make his way to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he would complete his graduate studies. 

The Young Professional 

Much like his other relatives, Lopez quickly jumped into the private sector following his graduation. He would use his family connections to quickly rise through the ranks at the petrol powerhouse Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which was denationalized at the time. However, during Hugo Chavez's presidency, PDVSA would once again become nationalized and OPEC compliant, ending the years of corruption that plagued the company. 

Lopez would eventually move into Academia, teaching economics at the Andres Bello Catholic University. He would hold this role for a short time period before entering the political spectrum. 

In 2000, he would begin his first term as mayor of Chacao Municipality, following an election in which he attained 51 percent of the vote. 

The Politician

At the start of his tenure as Chacao Mayor, Lopez thrived and helped drive the local economy, but his personal ambitions would ultimately lead to political and civil instability. 

In 2002, Lopez was considered one of the main orchestrators of the coup against Hugo Chavez. Later he was accused of organizing the arrest of Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez.

Lopez attempted to distance himself from the coup attempt against Chavez after the conspirators failed to overthrow the government. 

His last years as mayor were filled with controversy due to corruption acts and foreign dealings which went against the state. In 2008, Lopez was barred from running for the mayor of Chacao position, along with several of his political allies. 

Right-Wing Radicalization

In 2011, Lopez put himself forward as a presidential candidate but later removed his name as he was still barred from holding office due to corruption charges. In the same year, he met numerous times with Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe, a traditional enemy of the Bolivarian revolution who has openly asked Venezuelan soldiers "to remove Maduro and his regime and hold transparent elections.”

A few months after Nicolas Maduro’s electoral victory in April 2013, Lopez returned to the U.S., spoke to Venezuelan expats and began to preach about ‘the exit’ of the leftist elected government.

“We have to hurry the exit of the government… Nicolas Maduro must go out sooner than later from the Venezuelan government. Nicolas Maduro and all his supporters,” Lopez said and added that “from my point of view, the method is secondary, what is important is the determination to reach our goals at any cost.”

Family

Besides being the great-great-grandson of Venezuela's first president Cristobal Mendoza, Leopoldo Lopez comes from an affluent family that has been at the forefront of Venezuela's political affairs for decades. However, their history has been immersed in both turmoil and controversy.

In particular, Lopez's uncle, Thor Halvorssen, was a known CIA informant who worked with Duane Clarridge, one of the top CIA officials indicted during the Iran-Contra affair.

According to Mision Verdad, Halvorssen was also deeply involved in the CIA's operations in Latin America, providing weapons or cash to mercenaries in Nicaragua and El Salvador as part of a U.S. multinational operation aimed at destroying progressive governments and parties in the region.

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