Leopoldo Eduardo López, former Mayor of Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela and second runner-up in World Mayor 2008

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Leopoldo Eduardo López
Former Mayor of Chacao Municipality, Caracas, Venezuela

Kidnapped and shot at, a Venezuelan
mayor opposes country’s president

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

4 July 2008: The story of Venezuela both at home and abroad since the beginning of this century has rested on one man, Hugo Chavez. As divisive at home as abroad, the emergence of a city mayor as his principal opposition has seen Leopoldo López’ reputation emboldened, having entered city politics on wafer-thin majority in 2000 only to receive a landslide 81 per cent of votes four years later. One of several younger mayors in both Venezuela and Caracas, while Chavez can only claim to be the political heir of national liberator Simon Bolivar, López is both the grandson of the country’s first president Cristobal Mendoza and descended from the same family of Bolivar himself. Leopoldo Eduardo López has been honoured with third place in the 2008 World Mayor Project.

UPDATE 24 NOVEMBER 2008: Leopoldo Eduardo López stood down as Mayor of Chacao

Born in the Venezuelan capital Caracas in 1971, López could be said to enjoy membership of the country’s European political elite from birth and lineage alone. The great-great-great-great-great nephew of national liberator and second president Simon Bolivar, López is also the grandson of former cabinet member Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa and the great-grandson of the first president, Cristobal Mendoza. From hereon in his life conformed to the elite stereotype of the Latin American technocrat pre-elected office. López’ education largely took place in the United States, where he studied economics at Kenyon College in Ohio before progressing to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where in 1996 he earned a Masters in Public Policy. On graduation from the Ivy League college, López began work within the state-owned oil company PVDSA as an economist, working until 1999. He then held tenure as a professor of economics at the Jesuit Catholic University of Andres Bello.

López’ political career began with his stint in the centre-right Justice First Movement party (Movimiento Primero Justicia), which was founded in 1992 as a campaign for the protection of the judiciary against executive interference, serving on its board of directors. In July 2000, aged just 29, López was elected as Mayor of Chacao Municipality on just 51 per cent of the vote, though he increased this to 81 per cent on his re-election in October 2004. With the emergence of Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales as Hugo Chavez’ principal challenger in the 2006 presidential election, López and several others from Justice First switched their allegiance to Rosales’ party, the social democratic A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo).

Since becoming mayor, López has been on the receiving end of several kidnapping attempts, both successful and unsuccessful and even an assassination attempt. It is claimed that these have been inspired by supporters of Hugo Chavez, as has the attempt to discredit him by the Comptroller General, who has banned him from holding public office once his term as mayor ends, on account of a donation to Justice First by his former employer, which was sanctioned by his mother in her capacity as PVDSA head of public affairs.

According to a Los Angeles Times headline, López is a “lightening rod for Venezuela’s political strife”. It would be easy to caricature him as the scion of the country’s wealthy elite, standing in the way of Chavez’ social justice crusade. But López’ record on activism has shown a commitment to promoting legal equality and his constituents speak passionately about a mayor who has delivered on public services and funding new infrastructure.

Opponents, of which is not short of, as the assassination attempt shows, claim that López is another elite politician in thrall to the US, but he could also be seen as the pluralism that Venezuelan democracy needs if it is to reconcile Chavez’ crusade for social justice with honouring democratic norms. As a city leader, López has talent and energy in spades, but even his allies confess he needs to restrain his temper and act with more humility on occasion.

In April 2008 López announced his candidacy for the Caracas mayoralty, directly taking on Chavez' United Socialist Party electoral machine. However, months later he was among 371 candidates debarred from standing for public election by the state electoral tribunal, which ruled him in breach of the law on account of the earlier donation row involving Justice First.  López has vowed to fight the "unconstitutional" ruling, on the streets if necessary, though whether it's López or Chavez who emerges victorious remains to be seen.

The formerly separate Chacao Municipality is regarded as one of the more affluent of the five that now make up the Caracas Metropolitan District and is caricatured by Chavez supporters as a sparsely populated plutocratic enclave. Most foreign embassies are based in the suburb and it is home to a number of the country’s most wealthy citizens. One of López’ predecessors as mayor, Irene Saez, was 1981 Miss Universe and an electoral opponent of Hugo Chavez in the 1998 presidential election.

Leopoldo Eduardo López has come third in the 2008 World Mayor Project

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