Protests continued to explode in the streets of Caracas and throughout Venezuela after opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself in on Tuesday morning, following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
López surrendered to the Venezuelan National Guard, but not before proclaiming his innocence to a large crowd of supporters. “I have nothing to fear, nothing to hide,” he shouted. “They want to jail Venezuelans who want peaceful, democratic change.”
He was arrested and transported to Ramo Verde, a military prison on the outskirts of Caracas, where the city’s toughest criminals are sent. It has also been used throughout the Chávez-Maduro regime to confine political prisoners.
The Harvard-educated politician had encouraged anti-government protests in several cities, where fierce clashes occurred between opposition demonstrators, police, and colectivo militia groups loyal to the government. He faced nine charges upon arrest, including intentional homicide, terrorism against the state, property damage, and the incitement of crime. (The terrorism and homicide charges were dropped after a court hearing late Wednesday.)
López declared that he had subjected himself to a corrupt justice system in order to help prompt non-violent reform. “This is the first step in the construction of the road for change,” he said, “and it must, by necessity, be a peaceful process.” He remains in custody at Ramo Verde.
Samuel Diaz, one of the many students protesting in Caracas, told VICE News that “in Maduro and Chávez’s Venezuela, someone is guilty until proven innocent” — particularly if the person is a member of the opposition.
“In the eyes of the government and its supporters, which includes all appointed judges, you are either with them or you are against them,” Diaz said.
López’s arrest has sparked more demonstrations throughout the country. Government supporters have taken the streets to celebrate his arrest, while opposition members continue to highlight the pressing social and economic problems afflicting Venezuela. Both groups have vowed to continue to agitate for however long is necessary.
Government employees were reportedly sent home this afternoon, and citizens of Caracas are bracing themselves for another chaotic night. As unrest in the region grows, it remains to be seen whether Maduro will be able to maintain his grip on power.