Mental, or just plain stupid?

One happy family
One happy family

I wonder about Nicolás Maduro sometimes.

I mean, it’s easy to dismiss Maduro as insane. The latest from the man who talks to birds, who thinks Chávez was “innoculated” with cancer? Well, the opposition is spreading tropical diseases, and it’s all the media’s fault.

Still, barring the possibility that he’s insane, can he really be this stupid, politically speaking?

Case in point: the liberation of Iván Simonovis.

In case you don’t know, Simonovis was police chief during the April, 2002 coup that saw 19 Venezuelans die and Hugo Chávez leave power for a brief period of time. Chavistas decided to blame Simonovis, along with another group of policemen, and nine years ago he was sentenced to thirty years in jail for “crimes against humanity.”

He’s been in jail ever since. Meanwhile, Simonovis became Exhibit A of the opposition’s claim that there are political prisoners in Venezuela, even though he is not the only one. They have been claiming for a long time that he is gravely ill.. Henrique Capriles even took Simonovis’ wife to the Vatican to accompany him in his meeting with Pope Francis.

Well, early this morning, the government “freed” Simonovis, by switching him to house arrest and yet forbidding him from talking to reporters or using social media.

This is undoubtedly good news for Simonovis, his family, and the people in the opposition that support him. Still, who is Maduro looking to please with this move?

It’s not the opposition. Nobody who is happy about Simonovis is going to think any differently about Maduro after this move.

It’s certainly not swing voters. People caught in the middle don’t really think about Simonovis one way or the other. Their main concern is the economy, and Venezuela’s soaring crime rates. Many don’t even know who Simonovis is.

And it’s certainly not chavistas. The hard-core base is livid with this. They always viewed Simonovis as guilty, and have vehemently opposed any humanitarian measures in his favor. Chavista relatives of some of the April 11th victims have prevented chavismo from showing any clemency toward Simonovis. Maduro himself has pleaded with the opposition, basically telling them he couldn’t free SImonovis even if he wanted to.

Dissident chavista intellectual Nicmer Evans is furious. In a sign that the government is worried about rankling its own base about this, the Supreme Tribunal has said that Simonovis can go home as long as he is ill. If he gets better, he has to go back to the slammer. Talk about trying to have it both ways …

Maduro’s popularity is in the tank. This move gets him zero new voters, and manages to turn off his more radical base. What benefit can there be in this?

My only theory is that granting Simonovis house arrest is a concession to foreign governments, and a gesture for the opposition.

Recently we learned that Latin American governments have unanimously backed Venezuela’s candidacy to the UN Security Council, which should make for some entertaining theater once Hugo Chávez’s daughter takes her seat at the table. On the other hand, Henrique Capriles talked about dialogue again in the last few days, but has repeatedly conditioned it on a “gesture” on the part of the government. And let’s not forget that, in the last few weeks, the government has also released a few more political prisoners, most notably the student protester Sairam Rivas.

It wouldn’t surprise me that this is the calculation behind Maduro’s move. But in throwing his base under the bus, Maduro is probably making things worse than better. No amount of dialogue can cover up the fact that his supporters will not take this lightly.

In spite of it all, it’s nice that a family is reunited on the back of Maduro’s mistake. Let’s hope we see more of these mistakes in the near future, as many more political prisoners are still rotting in jail.

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