Leopoldo Lopez '89 - "The Boy I Remember"

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López ’89 has galvanized an anti-government movement in his native Venezuela in recent years. He has organized protests with thousands of the country’s youth in an effort to influence change in the socialist government led by Nicolás Maduro. Last week, five young demonstrators were killed during public clashes with the Venezuelan National Guard. President Maduro blames Mr. López for causing the unrest in the country and arrested Mr. Lopez Tuesday, February 18th on charges of terrorism and murder. Underground reports from communities throughout the country indicate that authorities are using violence and threatening conditions to further oppress the Venezuelan people, especially those who express dissent. CNN reports that Venezuelan prosecutors dropped those charges on Friday, February 21st, and formally charged Mr. López instead, with arson and conspiracy.

At The Hun School of Princeton, where Mr. López was a boarding student in the late 1980s, faculty and alumni recall a young man who, even then, was concerned for the people of Venezuela and had a plan to improve life in his homeland.

Early signs of responsibility

Mr. López was interviewed in 1989 for the student newspaper, The Mall. He said, “Being away from home created an awakening of the responsibility I have towards the people of my country. I belong to one percent of the privileged people, and achieving a good education will hopefully enable me to do something to help my country.”

The article went on to say, “After graduating from Kenyon College, Leo hopes to go to graduate school, and then back to Venezuela where he hopes to go into politics and improve Venezuela.”

CNN Anchor Susan Hendricks ’91, who attended The Hun School with Mr. López, was not surprised by the opposition leader’s success in bringing his countrymen together or his peaceable surrender. “We were drawn to him,” said Ms. Hendricks of Mr. López’ magnetic personality. “I’ve been texting and tweeting with people that are very good friends with him up until this day. We are all concerned. I spoke with him about a month ago, and he said, ‘I will not leave Venezuela.’”

A developing talent for leadership and motivation

Following his first year at The Hun School, Mr. López was nominated and elected vice president of the School’s student council. He was also selected captain of the swimming and crew teams.

Of Mr. López’ leadership, teammate Matthew Coffey ’90 said in 1989, “Before every race, in both swimming and crew, a little light goes on, he says something in Spanish, and he is gone. Leo has been very encouraging and is very good at getting people psyched in both sports. I am sure these qualities will help him lead Venezuela out of the third world some day.”

Early success with rhetoric

Mr. López developed his voice as a charismatic and effective public speaker while competing on the the School’s Forensics team. He also contributed creative writing to the School’s literary magazine. He was a champion of extemporaneous speech, and was well regarded for his ability to speak and write with confidence and eloquence in both English and Spanish.

Dianne Somers, director of international student programs at The Hun School, is proud of Mr. López’ bravery and conviction. In response to Mr. López’ arrest, she wrote, “Lots of us talk about what we want to do when we grow up. He has realized his dream. The boy I remember. Godspeed.”

Update, 1:15 p.m. February 18th:

NBC reports that Leopoldo Lopez is in government custody. Mr. Lopez peacefully surrendered to authorities at the scheduled march in Caracas. Click here to read NBC reports.

“In this difficult situation the country is going through, I personally do not know what I would have done. I respect his (Leopoldo Lopez’) decision. My solidarity to his family,” said Rafael Castillo, Hun Class of 2012, Loyola Class of 2016. Mr. Castillo has served as a student activist on behalf the Venezuelan people and Mr. Lopez.

February 17th

Hun Alumnus Leopoldo López ’89 Stands Up for Venezuela; Hun Community Wears White

Venezuela made international news last week for a series of protests opposing the current socialist government and the resulting violence. Hun School alumnus Leopoldo López Mendoza ’89 stands bravely at the center of this turmoil, fighting for the rights of the Venezuelan people, even as his own safety and freedom are increasingly at risk. An arrest warrant was issued for Mr. López, last week, who has pledged to lead a march on Tuesday, February 18th. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on Saturday opposing threats against Mr. López. In support of our Venezuelan students and alumni, The Hun School community will dress in white Tuesday.

“Lots of us talk about what we want to do when we grow up. He has realized his dream. The boy I remember. Godspeed,” said Diane Somers, Mr. Lopez’ former teacher and the Director of International Student Programs at The Hun School.

Mr. López, a political legacy in Venezuela, served as the mayor of Chacao, Caracas for eight years and in 2012 ran for president of Venezuela. He and his supporters oppose current president Nicolás Maduro. Last week, Mr. López attended a series of peaceful protests, where three young civilians were shot and killed. An arrest warrant has subsequently been issued for Mr. López.

According to BBC reports, Mr. López has not been seen since Wednesday, but pledged via Twitter to lead Tuesday’s march despite the threats against him.

"I will be there to show my face. I have nothing to fear. I have not committed any crime. If there is any order to illegally arrest me, well, I will be there.” Mr. López has also asked his supporters to dress in white on Tuesday "to reaffirm our commitment to peace."

On Saturday, February 15th, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement expressing concern about the rising tensions in Venezuela. "We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo López," read the statement.

After graduating from The Hun School in 1989, Mr. López attended Kenyon College and Harvard University before returning to Venezuela. Mr. López is the great-great-great-grandson of the country's first president, Cristobal Mendoza. Mr. López’ father, Leopoldo Lopez (Sr.) ’63 also attended The Hun School.

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