Profile: Lilian Tintori
The last decade has seen the feminist agenda soar, from a proliferation of festivals such as Women of the World (W.O.W) in Southbank, to Disney movies such as Frozen having the princess saved by her sister, instead of the usual handsome prince coming to the rescue. Beyoncé’s Feminist performances and Emma Watson’s speech at the U.N. have all given the feminist trajectory an impetus by using their celebrity status to give feminism a platform in popular culture. However, there are some every day women who deserve recognition such as the women in Kenya’s Green Belt Movement planting trees for microbusiness and the environment; one woman in particular who deserves recognition for her strength and persistence in fighting for human rights this past year is Lilian Tintori.
37-year-old Lilian is a Venezuelan mother of two, and the wife of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez, who was unjustly imprisoned by the corrupt Venezuelan government last February 2014. Leopoldo who led The Popular Will Party (La Voluntad Popular), encouraging people to take the streets peacefully in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution, was persecuted by the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro. A warrant was issued for his arrest for exercising his freedom of speech and thus “conspiring against the government”; after discussing it with Lilian, Leopoldo decided to hand himself over in order to show that he had done nothing wrong. Speaking out of a megaphone to thousands of Venezuelan’s before he handed himself over, Leopoldo stated that he had two options, he could either leave Venezuela in seek of Asylum, or he could stay and hand himself over in order to “take off the government’s mask and show its true face to the world”.
(Crowd holds up Lilian so she can reach her husband Leopoldo as he addresses thousands of Venezuelans, reminding them to remain peaceful before handing himself over to the authorities. Photo credit: Reddit)
(Leopoldo speaks out of megaphone to thousands of Venezuelans dressed in white as a sign of peace, on the day he handed himself over to the govenrmnet. Photo credit: El Diario de Caracas)
Since his imprisonment last February 18th, Lilian has not only continued her husband’s role in the popular will party, but has travelled the globe on a human rights agenda, seeking the endorsement of the international community for the release of her husband. Gaining strength from her religion and from the hope of reuniting her family, Lilian has declared that she will continue fighting for Leopoldo and the detained students until they are freed, calling on the international community to “raise their voice” in solidarity. In the last year she has met with: Pope Francis; the president of the European Parliament; the U.S. vice president Joe Biden; Salil Shetty – the secretary general of Amnesty International; the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as a number of presidents worldwide, gaining support for the release of her husband, and of all the students who are today still being detained in inhumane conditions.
(Caption – Lilian flies to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis asking him to pray for peace in Venezuela, the release of political prisoners and of her husband Leopoldo. Credit: Twitter /Lilian Tintori )
(Lilian at a rally in Caracas. Photo credits: EFE/archivo|)
With a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, Lilian told Colombian news channel NTN24 that the most difficult part of the past year has been explaining to her children “why their daddy can’t come home”, “Telling them that daddy is a real life superhero, and that in Venezuela sometimes the good guy has to be locked away”. Having to explain why sometimes they can’t visit him, because Maduro has taken away his visiting rights as punishment for Lilian’s vociferous condemning of Maduro’s government to the international community.
(Lilian Tintori and her son (age 2) at Ramo prison entrance where Leopoldo has been imprisoned since 18th February 2014) (Credits: Instagram)
On the 13th of February, government officers were ordered by Colonel Miranda to violently raid Leopoldo’s cell. They broke down his door, destroying his room and its contents including his writings, documents, and according to an NTN24 interview with Lilian on the day, even pictures of their children were torn into pieces; he was then moved to a smaller cell of 43 square feet. Colonel Miranda is said to have ordered this raid in response to Lilian’s meeting with the U.S. vice president Biden and the secretary general of Amnesty International in the preceding week.
Due to the level of repression in Venezuela, and the restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the population have to use social media such as twitter and Instagram in order to communicate and share information about the reality that occurs in Venezuela. With over 60 students still being detained in inhumane conditions Lilian frequently passes on Leopoldo’s messages from prison, organises peaceful assemblies, and actively updates the population on her meetings with international organisations and world leaders via twitter and Instagram. With 1.56 million, and 733 thousand followers respectively, Lilian fervently campaigns in an attempt to “fight for democracy and freedom”, and spread hope amongst the Venezuelan people that the international community is standing with them in solidarity.
Despite the emotional and physical strain that Lilian has endured throughout the past year, she continues to fight for Human Rights without taking a day’s break, whilst trying to be strong for her two children and her husband. Lilian has come to be seen as the symbol of the strong Venezuelan woman; like her, thousands of other women have taken to the streets in peaceful protest, many of whom have lost their children or spouses while trying to exercise their rights of freedom of speech and assembly, and all of them in the hope of ensuring a better future for their children.
(All women and mothers walked the streets dressed in white as a symbol of their search for peace. Lilian in the front alongside Maria Corina, fellow leader of the Popular Will Party. Credit: Excelsior.com.mx)