Lilian Tintori became what she never wanted to be: a human rights activist. She had no choice when her husband, politician Leopoldo López, was jailed. Now living in exile, she continues her work from Spain.
Lilian Tintori was Venezuela’s National Kitesurfing Champion of 2003. As a famous television and radio personality, her face was on billboards all over the country. But all that changed after her husband, politician Leopoldo López, was imprisoned in 2014 for ‘incitement of violence’ during protests against president Nicolás Maduro. Since then, Tintori is one of the faces of the Venezuelan opposition.
Venezuela is a country in crisis – and has been for years. It has shockingly high inflation rates and shortages of food, water and medicines. All the while Maduro, president since 2013, has tightened his grip over the country. He effectively eliminated the parliament’s power and installed a Supreme Court which shamelessly does his bidding. Starting in 2014, the Venezuelans reacted with massive protests, with former Chacao mayor Leopoldo López as one of its leaders. This led to his imprisonment in the military Ramo Verde prison.
It was then that Lilian Tintori took over. ‘Never in my life did I think I’d talk about human rights around the world’, she said in an interview shortly after López’ imprisonment. ‘Leopoldo is a politician, not me. But these months are like a school, a university of human rights for me.’ While her husband continued to speak out from prison and later from house arrest, Tintori did the same on the international scene. ‘I believe in the international community’, she said at the time. ‘All around the world, [I have been] talking about Venezuela, trying to say: help us. Help Venezuela.’
During the uprising led by politician Juan Guaidó in April 2019, López was released. When a few days later a new warrant for his arrest was issued, López and Tintori first fled to the Spanish embassy, and in October 2020 managed to escape to Spain. From there, Tintori still fights for human rights in her home country. ‘We try to help a group of seventeen families with members still in jail’, she says. ‘These are political prisoners and their families need us to fight and scream and create attention. We also campaign against inhuman prison conditions.’
Despite living in exile, she is optimistic about the future of her country. ‘We are near liberty and the end of a dictator. We are full of hope and spirit. I believe in the institutions in the world, like the United Nations, and in the countries who are watching and understand human rights.’ Ultimately, she dreams of returning. ‘But Maduro needs to be away, otherwise we’ll go to jail. We’re happy to be in Spain, but the real happiness will come when we are back in Caracas. They will not break my spirit. We are fighting a moral fight and a fight for love. This is not the end.’
A La Calle, the documentary featuring Lilian Tintori, is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2021, where Lilian Tintori will be a special guest.