Lilian Tintori: Leopoldo Lopez's house arrest partner
Lilian Tintori, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López's wife, during a press conference in Caracas on September 2, 2017. (Photo: Cristian Hernández/EFE)
Caracas, Dec 5 (efe-epa).- "My home became a prison," Lilian Tintori told EFE in an interview, referring to the house arrest of her husband, Venezuelan opposition leader and 2017 Sakharov Prize recipient Leopoldo López.
Tintori has been accompanying Lopez during his confinement in much the same way Yelena Bonner in the 1980s accompanied her husband -internally exiled in Gorky -, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, after whom Europe's most significant human rights award is named.
López, one of the winners of the 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought - awarded by the European Parliament -, has been transferred from a military prison to his house, where he continues to serve out his 14-year-sentence and is barred from expressing political opinions.
His wife, who for three years and five months traveled the world to denounce that López had been unfairly convicted and sentenced, became his spokesperson and then his house arrest partner.
She is now pregnant with their third child and is expected to give birth next month.
"The pregnancy has been very hectic because my home became a prison; my house is surrounded by police officers. They call Leopoldo constantly to take his photo with a newspaper (in hand), as if he were a kidnap victim. Every day," she says.
"And every time they call him we feel scared they could take him away, as happened once before," said the 39-year-old Tintori, who arrived for the interview wearing a T-shirt bearing the face of her husband and the word "libertad" (freedom).
More fearful after Ledezma's escape
Toward the end of October, the European Parliament decided to award the 2017 Sakharov Prize to a group of Venezuelan democratic figures opposed to the regime of Nicolás Maduro, a candidacy proposed by the European People's Party (EPP).
The recipients of the award were the speaker of the National Assembly (an opposition-controlled body that has been politically sidelined), Julio Borges; two political leaders under house arrest - López and former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma; and four other opposition members who were then in prison, one of whom - Yon Goicoechea - was released a few days later.
Lopez and Tintori's fears were heightened when Ledezma managed to escape from house arrest in mid-November and flee to Spain.
"We’ve been through some very difficult moments in recent weeks since Antonio Ledezma managed to flee the country. We went through very tough days because security was ratcheted up at my house," the wife of the dissident leader of the Popular Will party (VP) said.
Dozens of officers constantly monitor her house in Caracas and videotape all activity in the area.
"They don't let me park my car at my house. I have to go down and get into my car outside the Sebin (secret service) on the street. It’s tough to get used to," added Tintori.
Palabra Prize for Tintori
At the end of November, Tintori was awarded the Federation of Press Associations of Spain’s inaugural Palabra Prize for her "commitment to peace and democracy."
"I dedicate the prize to political prisoners because, since 2014, I promised myself as a woman to speak out on their behalf. To speak on behalf of my husband, Leopoldo, who was imprisoned, and for all those who continue to be jailed in Venezuela," she said.
It is estimated that Maduro's government is holding around 300 political prisoners. Since 2014, López has been serving a 14-year sentence for allegedly instigating violence that broke out during anti-government protests.
According to Tintori, López is "very concerned for the country, because we are in a bad state, because the country is on the verge of collapse."
However, she says her husband “is very active,” contemplating solutions to the crisis in the oil-producing nation, which has been suffering from an acute shortage of food and medicine and, according to the National Assembly's estimates, will end the year with an inflation rate of more than 2,000 percent.
Tintori says she considers Spain her "second home" and that the European country has served as a megaphone for communicating the reality in Venezuela.
"The first world leader to receive us was Mariano Rajoy of Spain. And once he listened to us, received us, the doors of other countries around the world also opened."
Tintori accuses the Maduro government of having waged "campaigns" against her for getting heads of state and government, parliaments, Nobel laureates and even the United Nations to recognize her husband as a prisoner of conscience and demand his release.
She says those campaigns are the price she has been made to pay by Maduro's "dictatorship," which has barred her from leaving the country since September over accusations of possessing 200 million bolivares (around $60,000 at the official exchange rate) in cash.
Tintori says she has gone to court more than 10 times in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain information about her case, and therefore believes the charge was a ploy by the government to take away her passport and prevent her from meeting with global leaders.
As a human rights activist, Tintori promises she will not rest until there are no political prisoners left in Venezuela.
In her opinion, the latest round of talks between the government and the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition alliance offers an opportunity to achieve this aim.
However, there is disagreement on this point among the parties that make up the MUD, including López’s VP.
Tintori admits that she and her husband have many differences of opinion but says this does not affect her support for him as a politician, a facet in which she describes him as "strong and brave."
"Leopoldo is very firm, Leopoldo is very political, Leopoldo wants to contribute and he has always said that he will contribute from wherever," the activist said in reference to his possible candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections.
By Héctor Pereira
Translated by Shubhomoy Chatterjee
"The project was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information for opinions expressed in the context of this project. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the project."