SCOOP: Venezuelan opposition leader @leopoldolopez told me he is starting a new initiative called the World Liberty Congress with @Kasparov63 and @AlinejadMasih to help dissidents around the world fight back against autocrats. https://t.co/xfKwPiSrB2
— Daniel Lippman (@dlippman) November 4, 2022
This article is a reprint. You can read the original at Politico.
By Daniel Lippman, Matt Berg, and Lawrence Ukenye, with help from Maggie Miller
“As Americans worry about the future of democracy in their country, Venezuelan opposition leader LEOPOLDO LÓPEZ is on a mission to try to save it worldwide.
López, who spent more than four years of his life in solitary confinement after being arrested by the NICOLÁS MADURO regime for leading protests against it in 2014, is starting a new initiative along with Russian opposition leader GARRY KASPAROV and Iranian dissident MASIH ALINEJAD called the World Liberty Congress to gather together like-minded dissidents and democracy advocates to share ideas on how to combat autocratic regimes.
The group of more than 120 leaders and activists from more than 40 countries is meeting for the first time for three days next week — in a city that López asked to not be disclosed for security reasons. (This week a group of young dissidents from Nicaragua were arrested returning from a meeting the group organized in Costa Rica for participating in the event.)
“It’s very shocking, over the past 16 years, there’s been a recession of democracies worldwide back to the 1989 levels of democracies in the world,” he told NatSec Daily, numbers backed up by a recent University of Gothenburg report. And from 2017 to 2021, the number of people who have democratic rights has declined from 3.9 billion to 2.3 billion, according to Oxford’s Our World In Data.
“We have to figure out how we can become more effective in the way that we promote freedom and democracy,” López said.
As autocracies support each other with money and weapons, López believes that democracy advocates have to form a network that will counter that by sharing techniques for grassroots activism, fighting corruption, countering government messaging, and using technology and the financial system to counter autocratic regimes.
The group reflects a fundamental shift in the view among some dissidents and activists that they need to get more organized, and more technologically savvy, in fighting back against autocracies.
It’s still too early to say whether this new initiative will actually make real progress or just be yet another talking shop for activists about democracy, without the pull to truly fend off governments with armies and billions of dollars of natural resources or trade behind them.
López, the former mayor of part of Caracas and founder of the Voluntad Popular opposition party, said he was confident that Venezuela, which used to be Latin America’s most prosperous country but now is its poorest, would be free within his lifetime. López, who now lives in exile in Spain and travels the world advocating for democracy, said his mission for the rest of his life is to try to bring democracy back to his home country.
“What I wake up every day thinking about is not what’s going to be my destiny but what’s going to be the destiny of my country,” he said when asked if he still wanted to be the leader of Venezuela one day.
As the Biden administration explores whether to have any rapprochement with Venezuela to get access to their oil, López cautioned the U.S. to tread lightly.
“Anything that helps the path to democracy and freedom in Venezuela should be supported, and anything that gives Maduro or any dictatorship legitimacy, resources, or support should not be supported,” he said.”