Robert G. Wesson Lecture: Facing Autocracy, a Global Challenge

Robert G. Wesson Lecture: Facing Autocracy, a Global Challenge

Wednesday, March 2, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Hybrid event: Online via Zoom, and in-person in Bechtel Conference Center

  • Leopoldo López

Robert G. Wesson Lecture Series in International Relations Theory and Practice

As a Venezuelan, Leopoldo López lived through the gradual deterioration of what was once a regional reference for democracy into an authoritarian regime that has created the worst humanitarian and migration crisis in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela is a clear example of how democracy could lose the battle against autocracy.

Unfortunately, the fight for freedom is no longer an issue to be solved only among Venezuelans. In fact, our conflict has become, like many others around the world, part of the global conflict between autocracy and democracy.

Autocracy in its different forms is spreading and constitutes a diverse but articulated movement around the world. To face this situation, new forms of organizations and democratic leadership must be promoted and empowered as an effective way to revert this new wave of autocracies. It is essential to create a synergy between effective local leadership, a comprehensive narrative and the use of new technologies that set up a range of possibilities to promote freedom.

The Wesson Lectureship was established at Stanford by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies in 1989. It provides support for a public address at the university by a prominent scholar or practicing professional in the field of international relations. The series is made possible by a gift from the late Robert G. Wesson, a scholar of international affairs, prolific author, and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

In establishing the series, Dr. Wesson stated his hope that the lectures would stimulate increased commitment to the study of international relations in a context that would enable students to understand the importance of developing practical policies within a theoretical and analytical framework. Previous Wesson Lecturers have included such distinguished speakers as McGeorge Bundy, Willi DeClerq, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Mary Robinson.


Leopoldo Lopez
Leopoldo López is a Venezuelan political leader, pro-democracy activist and Sakharov prize laureate. He is the founder and national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular political party.

López received a Bachelor's degree cum laude in sociology and economics from Kenyon College, and a Master´s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was awarded a honoris causa doctorate in Law from Kenyon College in 2007.

Leopoldo López was elected mayor of the municipality of Chacao in Caracas in 2000 and he finished his second term with a 92% approval rate. He also won third place at the World Mayor Awards and the 2007 and 2008 “Premio Transparencia”, awarded by Transparency International.

In 2014 he was unjustly detained by the Maduro regime and was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment. He spent four years in a military prison, a year and a half in house arrest and another year and a half in the Spanish embassy in Caracas under political asylum. He was recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. Also, in 2015 his detention was declared arbitrary by the UN.

In October 2020, López escaped from Venezuela through Colombia to join his family in Spain. It was the first time in seven years that he was able to be with his family in freedom. In his exile, López continues his fight for Venezuela´s democracy and freedom.

López has received several international awards for his fight for democracy and freedom in Venezuela. Among them, he was honored with the 2014 Harvard alumni achievement award, the NED´S 2013 Democracy Award, the 2016 Geneva Summit Courage Award and the 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom and Thought.