The Venezuelan government took Leopoldo Lopez into custody. He was my "Economy and Society" professor in my sophomore year at the UCAB. He introduced me to Douglas North, one of the clearest thinkers on economic history and to this date, one of my favorite authors. Leopoldo used North to teach us about the role of institutions in economic development. Later in the academic year, our class worked on a proposal for an "economic constitution" to be presented at the 1999 "constituyente" which was the re write of the 1961 Venezuelan constitution. As anyone who was in that class could attest, Leopoldo exuded the promise of a better Venezuela and we where all on board with him.
I later worked for him on his first campaign for Mayor; I remember writing pamphlets explaining his fiscal policy for the municipality, and walking up and down Plaza Altamira with him handling roses and getting votes (looking at his charm on the campaign trail I could not help but think about his similarity with JFK). When he started the campaign he had single digits support. It is incredible to watch the arch from the early days to today, where he stands in the front and center of the political agenda in Venezuela.
I then continued to work pro bono for the research department of La Alcaldia as well as helping him at all the main electoral campaigns up to 2004. I had a great time working with Edgard's team in La Alcaldia and with Tamara modeling exit polls for the campaigns. In one of those campaigns is where I first saw Patricia-- it took me another 3 years to meet her.
In 2009 I flew to Venezuela for 4 days to get married, and I spent one of those 4 days in the HQ of what soon would become Voluntad Popular. Back then Patricia and I believed he was one of the most relevant agents for positive change in Venezuela and we felt honored to be able to help him. We still believe he is one of the best hopes for positive political change in Venezuela.
To be clear, I am just one of the thousands of people who have crossed paths and work with Leopoldo, and it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I know him well, or that I understand his agenda for the ongoing protests he supports and that seem to be the reason the government has decided to arrest him.
Leopoldo is a man of strong convictions and I have not always agreed with everything he has said and done. But despite my differences with him, I still truly believe that he represents the future of Venezuelan politics. Even more than that really; he has also come to evolve into a true Venezuelan hero.
He is of course not alone in deserving to be called a hero. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan government has forced hundreds of committed politicians and community leaders into the roll of heroes. It has also forced the thousands of students and regular citizens from the past 5 years who have been fully committed to the preservation of peace and democracy into national heroes.
The current protests have been very politicized but at the core what we all care about is to keep our family safe, to make sure people have their basic needs covered and that people can find opportunities for self realization in Venezuela. The current government has failed in all these fronts. Its been 14 years and they have ran out of excuses. This government increased the national debt by an order of magnitude, ran a joyride of more than a decade with the oil price at more than $100, benefited from draconian controls over food distribution, ports, currency exchange, and many other aspects of the economy; and yet people are poor, stores are empty, and illegal businesses have been glorified. People are getting killed in the streets over money, revenge, or pure sadism. There is no rule of law in Venezuela and life is short and brutish for far too many.
Following their modus operandi, the government decides once again not to listen. They also fail to enter into an open dialogue with the disfranchised. They politicize the demands of the Other side and continue to blame a powerless opposition and an indifferent USA for the woes of the nation.
I don't know if the timing or the content of these protests is optimal but I do know that Venezuela is run by thugs and that people should fight to get rule of law and a basic respect for life back.
Leopoldo has been taken into custody by the National Guard (not the police, but by the armed forces). I can't imagine how his wife Lilian and two kids are feeling. Lilian if you are reading this know that Pati and I have your family in our thoughts and prayers. I imagine people like Amapola and many others who worked closely with him must be feeling frustrated, afraid, and very very angry.
I have had the privilege to work with really smart and effective people in my live and Leopoldo is among the best I have met. He is incredibly sharp, he manages the details of everything he does and is bold and creative in his thinking. Above everything else, he is incredibly hard working, determined and strong. This guy will walk through walls if he needs to.
If you work with the Venezuelan government and support the repression we are seeing on the streets and the detention of Leopoldo you should know that you have picked up one handful dude. He will be strong, and the more you try to break him the closer he will be to break you. He is probably in a prison cell and all of you surely feeling powerful and strong. But if I where you I would be afraid to put Leopoldo in a cage. Not because he is violent but because he is smarter and more committed than any of you.
Leopoldo, if you can read this, know that we all feel grateful to have you. Stay strong and try to stay positive. We are pretty far from home but we are with you.
Cross-posted from Facebook.