CUCUTA, Colombia – Leopoldo Lopez, the son of the great-grandchild of Venezuela’s first president, recently hiked one of the many treacherous trails that Venezuelans regularly hike to Colombia. The journey, often led by resourceful black-market entrepreneurs, requires crossing a muddy area and the Tachira River.
Lopez, 49, an economist and former political prisoner, stopped at the end of the path and stared at his beloved Venezuela where he is a wanted fugitive. His recent trip to Colombia also included a stop at a Roman Catholic church-run soup kitchen in Cucuta.
Lopez said Venezuela’s refugee crisis is only comparable to the crisis in Syria. He also visited a health care center near the Tienditas Bridge where refugees stop for help after crossing the Colombia-Venezuela border.
After opposing the late Hugo Chavez’s policies while serving as the mayor of Chacao, Chavez banned him from public office in 2008 and accused him of corruption. Lopez, a Harvard graduate, continued his activism with the Popular Will party and campaigned for the presidency in 2012.
Lopez ended his campaign and supported Henrique Capriles, 48, who lost to Nicolas Maduro in 2013. Months later, Maduro’s administration accused Lopez of inciting violence during protests. Lopez surrendered on Feb. 18, 2014, and he was sentenced to more than a decade in prison.
The case was criticized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Lopez escaped house arrest and left Venezuela in October to be reunited with his wife and children in Spain.
Most recently, he arrived in Bogota, Colombia, and he helped to promote the Venezuelan refugees’ participation in the opposition’s symbolic referendum.