Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, took up her husband’s cause in a U.S. media tour this week.
“I bring Venezuela’s message– the message of Venezuelan women who are desperate, and who cannot handle any more,” she told Fusion Live’s Mariana Atencio in her first sit-down interview in English.
The Venezuelan government accused Lopez of inciting terrorism and being responsible for the death of three people during an opposition rally he and student leaders called for in Caracas on Feb. 12. After the protest turned deadly, Lopez made a YouTube video with Tintori stating he would turn himself in to the authorities.
He spent six days in hiding until he made the decision to turn himself in.
Tintori recalled the last moments when she stood beside her husband before he was arrested on Feb. 18.
“I hugged him. I told him I stood with him and will always support him because that is marriage. A team through the good and the bad,” Tintori said. “He looked in my eyes and said ‘Lilian – take care of our children.'”
Since her husband was imprisoned, the 36-year-old has regularly taken her two young children–4-year old Manuela and 1-year old Leopoldo Santiago–to visit their father in his cell at Ramo Verde prison.
She admits it’s been difficult to tell her daughter the truth and watch her son take his first steps inside the jail cell. But she says she doesn’t regret the decision they made together.
“I always imagined it, but not as difficult as we are going through. But Leopoldo is a fighter, he is a man committed to his country, to every Venezuelan,” Tintori said. “When Leopoldo proposed, he asked me two questions. First he asked me to marry him. And I was going to say yes to him when he said, ‘Don’t answer me. I want you to answer the second question. The second question is do you want to be married to Venezuela?’ And I said yes.”
Even though she says she isn’t an opposition leader, it’s clear she could be a natural politician. In fact, as a former reality TV show star, Tintori is used to being in the public eye.
She has taken on a now role as her husband’s de facto spokesperson, but she’s also come to represent the role Venezuelan women have assumed in the crisis.
“They’ve tried to instill that horror, it’s very sad,” she said, referring to the Venezuelan government. “But there is an internal strength, a faith that the Venezuelan has to keep fighting and we have to commit ourselves to our country, our liberty, our children. The fight is for them.”
The protests in Venezuela, fueled by rampant inflation, scarcity of goods, and anger over alleged human rights abuses by the government, have been going on for three months now. At least 41 people have died and more than two thousand have been detained. Just this Wednesday, 129 students were arrested after a protest.
When asked about President Barack Obama’s relatively soft stance against the violence, she said she believes the administration will ultimately support their cause.
“He is a Democrat. He loves democracy. I know that he is aware of what is happening and I know they will do everything they can to ensure that we get back the democracy that they’ve taken away from us,” Tintori said.
And for the first time in English, she also pointed to the crucial role Americans could play in raising awareness for her plight in Venezuela:
“We need you, we need your voice. Stay with us, we are waiting for justice, we are waiting for a change, a positive change in our country.”
Tintori’s media tour will take her to Harvard next (her husband’s alma mater) and then Europe.