Dear students, faculty and members of the Kenyon community,
When I heard that my sister Adriana would be visiting with you I was filled with joy, as it brought back so many good memories of Kenyon and the ways that it contributed to the work in progress that I am today. From my earliest days as a freshman living in Lewis Hall, to building my mind in the classroom and expanding my world outside of it — and making lifelong friends along the way — the time I spent in Gambier was one of the richest, most rewarding periods of my life.
As many of you know, I am writing this letter from a military prison in Venezuela, where I am being held for the simple act of speaking and protesting against a political, social and economic catastrophe.
Today in Venezuela, we have a health system that does not cure the sick; an educational system that does not teach; a social system that does not care for the vulnerable people in society; police, judges and prosecutors who do not protect; an economy that produces neither employment nor wellbeing. As a result, Venezuela has one of the worst homicide rates on the planet; the highest inflation in the western hemisphere; severe shortages of basic necessities; and growing social instability.
Our people are being strangled by a regime that wants to control everything, wants to ration food, marks people with numbers in order to purchase ingredients, tells people what they must listen to, read or see: in other words, a 21st-century dictatorship. Civil institutions such as the electoral system, judiciary and media have been thoroughly corrupted by the ruling political party, which has ruthlessly persecuted all forms of disagreement.
At the beginning of 2014, we prepared a roadmap for change, which combined non-violent protest with a legal and constitutional process to allow people to vote for a new government. La Salida is the name we have given to our plan to exit from today’s terrible circumstances to a better life for all Venezuelans.
When we began protesting, the government issued a warrant for my arrest, in a clear attempt to criminalize dissent. I was faced with three options: I could leave the country or continue in hiding, as many other good people have chosen to do. The third option was to present myself before an unjust justice system voluntarily, and that is what I did.
I made this choice because I believed it would create an opportunity to more directly confront the lies, abuses of power and the need for change at the very root of the system. I have now seen firsthand the decay of Venezuelan justice being suffered by thousands of Venezuelans. Manipulation, the delay of process, and political control of judges and prosecutors in their provisional roles makes them dependent, vulnerable servants of a system and not of justice. For me, these are now more than mere facts and figures, and knowing this infuses me with an even greater moral and patriotic urgency to pursue change.
To those who are reading this, I urge you to follow these events, learn more and ask others to do the same. The perpetrators of this injustice can only win if the world turns a blind eye. But if people speak, act and shine a spotlight on what is happening, change will come.
If you would like to learn more about how to help, please visit the website that my Kenyon classmates have established, FreeLeopoldo.com.
The truth is that I do not know how long I will be here, but I do know that for as long as my imprisonment lasts, I will be calm, serene and clear on my principles and my convictions.
I know that one day — may it be one day soon (although time is something I have learned to master and not allow to torment me) — I will leave in freedom and with even more strength to fight for change, and for a clear democracy for Venezuela.
And when that happens, I can’t wait to walk down Middle Path on a return visit to Kenyon.
— Leopoldo Lopez ’93