A VENEZUELAN COURT has found 2014 Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Achievement Award winner Leopoldo López MPP 1996 guilty and sentenced him to almost 14 years in prison for inciting violence during political protest movements last year. López is a political opposition leader who was arrested in February 2014 at a time when protesters were calling for government leaders to address the nation’s security and economic problems. Critics have claimed that the arrest and trial were politically motivated.

In a commentary published in the New York Times last Friday (Sept. 25), López writes about his experience in solitary confinement, saying that “great causes require great sacrifices. I am convinced of the justice of our cause: the liberation of a people from the painful consequences of a system of government that has failed economically, socially and politically.”

López’ political career began in the early 1990s when he cofounded the Primero Justicia political party. He was elected mayor of Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, at age 29, just four years after graduating from the Kennedy School. He was reelected in 2004.  During his time in office, López was recognized for his efforts to improve the region’s education, public health and transportation systems. In 2008, the organization City Mayors selected him as one of the “world’s most outstanding mayors.” 

Last September, seven months after López’ arrest, President Obama called for his release in a speech delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative.

“We stand in solidarity with those who are detained at this very moment.  In Venezuela, Leopoldo Lopez; in Burundi, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa; in Egypt, Ahmed Maher; in China, Liu Xiaobo; and now Ilham Tohti; in Vietnam, Father Ly.  And so many others,” Obama said. “They deserve to be free. They ought to be released.”

López was awarded the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Alumni Achievement Award in 2014 by the HKS Alumni Board, comprised of 23 elected members who represent the interests of the global HKS community.

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