Leopoldo Lopez and Angel Santiesteban: Two Lives and One Destiny

If we paused to observe Leopoldo Lopez and Angel Santiesteban-Prats for one moment, we see two very different physical types. One is very slim, the other sturdy. One is a lawyer, the other a writer. One is Venezuelan, the other Cuban; both are the father of a girl and a boy. Both share the same gift: a great charisma accompanied by enormous generosity, and a desire to change the difficult reality of their countries: Leopoldo, from his active political participation, and Angel, through his civic opinion passed through his books and writings, with the cutting edge of the truthful word.

Beyond the similarities and differences, they appear to be cut from the same cloth. It is hard to find such men with such composure to dare tell two dictators — Cuban and Venezuelan — calling things clearly by their name and speaking directly, without euphemisms. Angel and Leopoldo did this and they continue to do it. For this reason, they both also share the terrible situation of being political prisoners of these two regimes brought together by the greed and evil of their rulers.

This week, Leopoldo has been a victim of a “violent requisition,” the same way that Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano, opposition mayors dismissed and imprisoned for designs of political power, using an “armed wing”: a justice that is corrupt and sold.

When we read the news about what is going on in Venezuela, we have to assure ourselves that we are reading news about Venezuela because, really, it appears copied from the news that independent journalists bring us in Cuba.

This week, Angel Santiesteban has been transferred in an illegal manner from the prison he had been in, a military facility in Lawton, Havana. Today is the sixth day of anguish and desperation without having received any news. This week we have also heard about how violence against those in the Venezuelan opposition is intensifying and how, not being satisfied with locking them up, the authorities enjoy punishing them with the same sadism of the Castro regime.

Angel already expressed his solidarity with Leopoldo Lopez in an open letter; today, Angel’s whereabouts remain unknown and isolated, probably tortured, and is oblivious to what is happening right now with Leopoldo. However, knowing full well Angel’s sentiments, from here we send all his solidarity in his name and in my own name, because I know that in the difficult moment he is going through, this is what he would have written in a new post.

And of course, our deepest affection to Lilian Tintori and her children. She, like the dignified Ladies in White of Cuba, exalts the word love.

I share here the brave letter that Leopoldo sent to his compatriots. In this letter one can see how – same as in the case of Angel – Maduro’s regime actually ends up strengthening Leopoldo. Without a doubt, as long as men like this exist, the liberty and peace of Venezuela and Cuba will arrive soon.

The Editor

Letter from Leopoldo Lopex Mendoza: I Accuse the Venezuelan Dictatorship

I have been politically persecuted under the “Chavista” regime for more than ten years. There have been more than 20 proceedings, political trials, homicide attempts dully reported and never resolved, moral assassination on behalf of the means of communication of the State and two political disqualifications, despite obtaining a favorable sentencing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the violation of my rights and in defense of my political participation.

For over a year, beginning in January of 2013, Nicolas Maduro publicly expressed, on national radio and television channels, his desire to put me in prison for the opinions issued against his government. It was in this context of permanent persecution and explicit threats made by Maduro that an order for my arrest was made on February 12 of this year.

I am in prison for denouncing the Venezuelan state as corrupt, inefficient, repressive, and anti-democratic. I am in prison for denouncing in a loud voice that in Venezuela there is no democracy, that public authority has been kidnapped by a corrupt elite, inefficient and anti-democratic, responsible for the serious social, economic, and political crisis that all Venezuelans suffer from today.

I am in prison for having denounced that in Venezuela we live in a dictatorship.

I am in prison for having proposed a profound change that can occur by replacing those that are in charge of all public authorities. I am in prison for having solicited the resignation or replacement of Nicolas Maduro as President of Venezuela through constitutional means.

I am in prison for having made a call to the Venezuelan people to go out to the streets to protest, making use of our historic and constitutional right of protest, until obtaining a political change that would guarantee peace, well-being, and progress for all Venezuelans.

I am in prison for having put forth ideas, opinions, and proposals that today a majority of Venezuelans share, who since their indignation have asked for a profound change that will set the nation on the right path.

I am physically in prison, they keep me isolated and with severe restrictions on visitors, but now or never will they be able to imprison my absolute conviction that we have the right and the duty to struggle to obtain democracy and liberty for Venezuela.

Thank God that I am not alone in these ideas, we are millions, we are in the majority, those of us who are willing to struggle for a change toward democracy. They might be able to imprison me and thousands more but will never be able to imprison the spirit of struggle that, with the young people at the vanguard, today runs through the streets of the towns, neighborhoods, and cities throughout the country.

Venezuela has already decided to change, therefore, my imprisonment and that of others is nothing but the face of a dictatorship that daily becomes weaker and weaker and has less popular support, that intends to stay in power by repressing, silencing critical voices, and criminalizing protest.

The accusation against me, based off of several speeches that I made between January 23 and February 12, has as it best defense the very speeches, read or seen from beginning to end, without edit or any form of manipulation. In these speeches, based on a critical analysis of the present crisis, I proposed a way out, a definitive political change, activated from the streets with nonviolent actions and embodied by a popular call to one of the four alternatives that the Constitution offers to bring about a change of government.

On January 23 we made a call to awaken our conscience, to lift the optimist spirit of the Venezuelan people, convinced that we can have a better Venezuela. A call to go out to the streets made on the anniversary of January 23, 1958, celebrated by the government and the opposition, is the date on which the Venezuelan people rose up against the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez.

On that day we had the celebration, February 2, of Popular Assemblies throughout Venezuela to discuss all of our options for overcoming the social, economic, and political crisis that we are now in.

On February 2, hundreds of gatherings were held throughout Venezuela, some big, some small, some in plazas, others in houses or  on the streets. At these gatherings, many different organizations, people, and parties with different proposals participated.

The conclusion was to commit to peaceful protests out on the streets for a better country, choosing February 12 as the date on which we would organize our first protest.

In that opportunity I said: “These struggles, sisters, brothers, have to have a clear direction and methodology based on nonviolence. Nonviolence has been the most effective method of struggle that oppressed peoples have created. Nonviolence does not mean passivity, nonviolence does not mean to hang one’s head low, nonviolence does not mean retreat. Nonviolence is to not have fear, it means to challenge, nonviolence means to be out on the streets, nonviolence means having a state of conscience where we do not allow manipulation.”

On February 12, as we had summoned, thousands of people came out to the streets in all of Venezuela. In Caracas, the protest began in Plaza Venezuela. From there we marched toward the headquarters of the Public Prosecutor’s office, just as we had notified the authorities. There we protested, in peace and without violence, for more than two hours, and we then left in peace. The violent acts occurred after our departure and in those, Nicolas Maduro’s government is to be held accountable.

Certainly, what calls the most attention with respect to the narrative of the facts by the government in its indictment against me is that they completely omit the most relevant act that occurred on that day: the murder of two Venezuelan citizens, Juan Montoya and Bassil Da Costa, executed by officials of the political police of the government. The government also remains silent about the fact that since that day, 42 Venezuelans have been murdered in the street protests, that thousands have been detained and subject to trial, and that more than one hundred are still deprived of their liberty for exercising their constitutional right to protest.

In my case, I have nothing that I have to rectify in word or deed. If it is a crime to denounce corruption, inefficiency, the loss of liberties and the anti-democratic calling of those who govern, I assume my responsibility. I further declare myself responsible for having summoned the protests in the streets with the intention of going out to conquer democracy and liberty for all Venezuelans.

I am innocent from the charges that they level against me, but I do not expect anything from a justice system composed of courts, a Public Prosecutor, and an Ombudsman highly corrupted, hijacked, and manipulated by the government of Nicolas Maduro. I am, along with hundreds of companions, a political prisoner, a prisoner of conscience.

Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, Ramo Verde Prison. Los Teques, Venezuela

For complete information about repression in Venezuela: http://www.accionporlalibertad.com

Please sign so that Amnesty International declares the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

26 July 2014