Venezuela's Ivy League radical eyes prison as political springboard

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SummaryVenezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has started down a well worn path...

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has started down a well-worn path toward building a profile in this politically volatile country: defying the government and going to jail.

The Harvard-educated, former mayor of the Chacao district of Caracas revived an opposition movement that had stalled, kickstarting anti-government protests that have left at least six dead and landed him behind bars.

After initially accusing Lopez of murder and terrorism, authorities are now charging him on lesser counts of instigating arson, damage and criminal gatherings.

By arresting Lopez, the government had hoped to weaken the protest movement, but a stretch in prison may give Lopez some extra credibility with anti-government groups.

It certainly helped late socialist president Hugo Chavez, who served two years in jail for a failed 1992 coup, and it also helped opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was jailed for four months after being accused of being involved in a siege of the Cuban embassy in Caracas in 2002.

Lopez, who was barred from public office by a national comptroller's ruling after he was accused of corruption, has won support among hardliners who have said creeping authoritarianism by President Nicolas Maduro has made a democratic change of government impossible.

Lopez's imprisonment has also helped him overshadow Capriles, who months ago was the opposition's undisputed standard bearer.

BLUE BLOOD

Exhuming the strategy of violent street protests, similar to those of a decade ago that failed to topple Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution, could ultimately lead the opposition down a blind alley.

"Today, more than ever, getting rid of this group of people that have kidnapped the future of Venezuelans is in your hands," Lopez said in pre-recorded video released after his arrest widely reported, theatrical surrender to security forces in Caracas.

"Join me in the fight. I'll be fighting as well."

A slick and image-conscious scion of blue-blood families, Lopez studied in the United States at Kenyon College in central Ohio. He went on to earn a master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

After returning to Venezuela, he co-founded the political party Justice First, focusing on technocratic public policy in sharp contrast to Chavez's Cuba-inspired nationalism.

During two terms as mayor of the wealthy

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