Honorable Senators and Representatives for the United States of America, Distinguished members of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Board of Directors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you to the Congress of the United States of America and the National Endowment for Democracy for your never-ending support of democracy around the world.
Today I stand before you to accept this recognition in the name of my husband, Leopoldo Lopez. I will attempt to relay his thanks for an award that has been presented to great democracy defenders in the past. It is a recognition that does not come without sacrifice and it is an award that I know Leopoldo accepts in the name of students, activists, union leaders, mothers, human rights defenders, and businessmen. It is also an award that Leopoldo accepts on behalf of all Venezuelans that have sacrificed their lives defending democracy and all the Venezuelans that continue to work every day to rescue democracy. Lepoldo has been incarcerated for one year and three months, of which seven and a half have been spent in solitary confinement, without seeing his family or the light of day – all because he attempted to unmask a profoundly undemocratic regime.
His sacrifice is for all Venezuelans – so that we do not have to continue living with 25,000 deaths a year as a result of violence, or unacceptable rates of impunity that reach up to 97%, or the scarcity and endless lines to purchase basic goods and freedoms.
This award symbolizes a concern for the state of democracy in Venezuela and the support for this universal right. Leopoldo is in jail because of his ideas and his words. He is a conscience prisoner. His detainment is plagued with arbitrary decisions and violations of his basic human rights and due process. His trial has been manipulated from his preliminary hearing which took place in a military mobile tribunal – in a military bus – despite Leopoldo being a civilian. Leopoldo is not going to trial. In a trial, there are two sides: the defense and the prosecution. In a trial, we seek for the truth through evidence and witnesses presented from both sides. Leopoldo’s defense, however, was not allowed to present a single piece of evidence. The prosecution presented 108 witnesses, all part of the governing party. Leopoldo is imprisoned because of his thoughts, for having allegedly sent coded messages inciting violence. In reality, Leopoldo never called for violence and his message was never subliminal, on the contrary, it was always clear, direct and specific.
The truth is that Leopoldo channeled the Venezuelan people’s feelings and called for peaceful, constitutional and democratic protests, the way any responsible leader would when seeing the social, economic and political degradation the Venezuelan people are going through. Leopoldo offered democratic and strictly constitutional alternatives to get out of this disaster. To think differently is not a crime, to want a better Venezuela is not a crime, and to protect peacefully is not a crime, it is a right.
Defending our rights and freedoms is not simple – it is a challenge that requires the solid support of all lovers of liberty and democracy, particularly when opposition leaders like Leopoldo, Antonio Ledezma (the Mayor of Caracas), Daniel Ceballos (the Mayor of San Cristóbal) and student leaders are imprisoned; and when those who think differently are persecuted and oppressed. The international community’s solidarity is fundamental, the support of multilateral and human rights organizations, and the support from political, governmental and parliamentary leaders will make the difference and help us break our chains from a corrupt, inefficient, undemocratic and oppressive government that violates all universal rights to freedom and democracy.
Today, Leopoldo is not physically with us but through this award which recognizes his fight for democracy, liberty and universal values, his is certainly present. This motivates us to remain strong and strive to end this reality which is attempting to rob Venezuela of its future.
On behalf of Leopoldo and in the name of all the Venezuelans who have sacrified their life and liberty in exchange for a better tomorrow, I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the NED and the United States Congress. May this momento serve as an inauguration for Leopoldo and all Venezuelans eventually obtaining freedom, the fundamental pillar of democracy.
I swear by Leopoldo that we will overcome and very soon we will have a free and democratic Venezuela, one where all rights are equal for all.
Have strength and faith!