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6 Feb, 2019 07:47

From zero to hero: How Venezuelan opposition leader Lopez made Juan Guaido the man of the day

From zero to hero: How Venezuelan opposition leader Lopez made Juan Guaido the man of the day

Juan Guaido may be a new name in the Venezuelan politics, but the man behind his rise from obscurity, controversial opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, has been known and supported by the US and its allies for years.

Leopoldo Lopez, then mayor of Chacao Municipality in Caracas, took Guaido under his wing in 2009. They founded the Popular Will party, which explicitly opposed the government of Hugo Chavez. Lopez has been described as Guaido’s “mentor,” and guided him through his time as a lawmaker, helping him to avoid arrest for anti-government activities.

He still leads the party, but has been under arrest since massive anti-government protests in 2014, which ended in deadly clashes. He spent three years in prison before being transferred to house arrest in 2017.

Lopez has kept his finger on the pulse despite his detention, and reportedly held meetings and issued directions to opposition activists via Skype and encrypted messaging apps while Guaido rallied street protests in Caracas.

“Leopoldo has been in prison for almost five years now, so communication with him is very difficult, we have to communicate with him through his family,” Juan Andres Mejia, congressman of the Popular Will party, told RT. “Basically, he gives the ideas, but decisions are being made by Juan and the rest of the Assembly,” he explained.

Lopez’s name appears in US diplomatic cables from 2009, which outline his strategy of running for public office and, potentially, for the presidency. However, US diplomats describe him as a “divisive figure” among the opposition, who is often “vindictive, and power-hungry.”

His wife, Lilian Tintori, has campaigned constantly for his freedom, and has met with US President Donald Trump and other political leaders. But Tintori found herself in the middle of a scandal in 2017 after police found a large amount of cash in her car, and she was later barred from leaving the country.

However, both Lopez and Tintori stay in regular contact with many officials and heads of states to ensure support for their protege, according to media reports.