Caged and restless

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Leopoldo Ramo VerdeLast Saturday, Prodavinci published a meaty piece of journalism-slash-history: Part 1 of the first extended interview opposition leader Leopoldo López has given since he was jailed last February (here, in Spanish). The author of the piece is Boris Muñoz, one of Venezuela’s best journalists.

The interview is quite long, but that’s understandable. Leopoldo, Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner, has a lot to say. It focuses on his day-to-day reality inside prison – how he has learned to play the cuatro, how he divides his day – but also on the events leading up the point when he turned himself in, starting with the days after his party won several important mayoral positions.

The interview’s main contribution is that it serves as an opportunity for Leopoldo to remain part of the conversation – and he knows it. While jail has, in the words of Muñoz, “preserved [Leopoldo] from the wear and tear that other political actors, both government and opposition, have suffered from as of late, as if he were locked in an anti-corrosive chamber,” it’s clear Leopoldo is missing the fray, and he is eager to jump right in. As he told me in December, he loves a good debate, and that comes through in the interview.

One of the important things Leopoldo does is frame the current struggle as a fight for freedom. In one of the more powerful passages of the piece, he cites Nelson Mandela by saying that “being imprisoned has gotten him closer to the thousands of Venezuelans who suffer from an unfair justice system.” He talks about day-to-day issues, but he is also unafraid to talk about the big picture. “Venezuelans,” he says, “have many material and basic wants, but they also have spitirual needs, the need for freedom, and any political discourse or proposal must understand that our people have a need for this as well.”

This is a direct response to comments made by some in the opposition, saying that Venezuelans don’t need talk about “dictatorships” or “freedom” because they don’t care about such abstract concepts. Leopoldo guffaws those that say these concepts do not help connect with the people, saying that Venezuelans’ intelligence “should not be underestimated.”

One of the more surprising aspects of the interview is how one of the people that emerges best is … Diosdado Cabello! As Leopoldo talks about the process that led to him turning himself in, Cabello comes across as an actual, albeit evil, human being – more Michael Corleone than Darth Vader, eager to negotiate the best outcome with the López family, all the while trying to get Leopoldo out of the way.

According to Leopoldo, Diosdado was the main conduit between the government and his family, and he was very interested in him leaving the country, asking for political asylum, or basically stop being a nuisance. When Cabello said that Leopoldo could be” assassinated – something López clearly understood as a death threat – he decided to turn himself in. Apparently, while Leopoldo was in the car with Cabello, who served as his personal chauffeur on his way to jail, Diosdado personally called Supreme Tribunal justices as well as the Attorney General to ask about Leopoldo’s case and give them barking orders.

The last of the main points that López makes is something that I have tried to convey on the blog – that the idea that the protests “strengthened” the government, or that the opposition is “weak,” is nonsense. The government’s numbers have never been this low, and as Leopoldo himself points out, any opposition candidate would easily beat Maduro right now, according to opinion polls. People are hurting, and they are blaming the government. If the protests strengthened the government, then you would have to argue that the government would be much weaker at this point had the protests not occurred, something difficult to do when their approval ratings are at historical lows. The opposition appears to be rudderless because its main leader is in jail, incommunicado, and that’s an important caveat. The government holds all power in Venezuela, but it is far from being in control.

When Hugo Chávez was imprisoned after his failed coup attempts in the early 90s, a series of interviews with well-known journalists helped keep him relevant, while serving as useful tools in building the “myth” of the Chávez persona. The myth of the hero as a “caged lion” is as old as Daedalus and Icarus, and building that myth through interviews such as this has usually been a succesful strategy.

Still, this is no propaganda piece. My general sense while reading it was that it is an important document on the current debate in the opposition. And while it is premature to tell whether any of this will have lasting impact, something tells me it’s a piece we will be revisiting.

1 COMMENT

  1. I really hope Leopoldo doesn’t want to become a new myth or intergalactic Caribbean leader… It would be too much to take.
    That said, is good to see that he is coherent and at least has a clear message to the country: we live in a dictatorship and that is not acceptable. Such a simple message, I don’t know why Capriles and Co. struggles so much with that concept.

    • I second that. Would be terrible to see him trying to become a phony icon of some sort. I still do not get why he turned himself in if not for that sole purpose…

      Remains a strange thing to have the president of parliament drive you to jail…

  2. 1) The intelligence of Venezuelans has never been underestimated. If anything, it has been wildly overestimated: who would have thought, in 1998, that they would trust Hugo Chávez for 14 years? Who would have thought that they (the violent looters of their own cities) would quietly queue for hours to get anything, from medicine to bread, believing in the good will of the government?

    2) Leopoldo López is not the opposition´s main leader. Capriles is the one who came closest to defeating the government. Whether one has more cojones than the other is another matter.

    3) There is one thing I like in the original interview: López straightforwardly calls Maduro a fraudster and an illegitimate president. Personally, I would vote for López any day, any time, he is a Hombre.

    • “Venezuelans’ intelligence “should not be underestimated.””

      Considering 30% of the country, while waiting in lines for hours for 1 package of Harina Pan, going without basic medicines, dealing with sky high crime, the worst inflation in the world, and the worst corruption in Latin America, still supports this regime (at least over any known alternative) and parrots farcical “economic war” type nonsense, I’m not sure I can whole heartedly agree*.

      However, I do agree with LL that making this about freedom from dictatorship adds a ‘sacred’, for lack of a better word, aspect to the fight for Venezuela’s future.

      *Let’s not forget those wise leaders who boycotted in 2005.

      • “*Let’s not forget those wise leaders who boycotted in 2005”
        Maybe that should be “The wise leaders who were afraid of the tiger’s skin after killing it and claimed the boycott was useless, leaving chavismo to dominate the assembly with a mere 18% of the votes.”

    • “Everything a politician does is propaganda.”
      So, no one’s worth a shit, so let him rot away there while the chavistas continue destroying the country?

      Damn, the “apolítica” really screwed some people up.

        • Nope, stating something is propaganda is saying it’s something done to manipulate people.
          It’s in the definition of the word itself:
          “Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position” -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda
          It’s like saying they’re “politizing” some issue, making it worthless and a manipulative lie just for being associated with politics. That’s one of the most powerful weapons of chavismo to dismiss any arguments or reasons against them, and it came straight from the antipolitics, the very propaganda chavismo used to manipulate people into voting for the corpse in 1998.

          • “Nope, stating something is propaganda is saying it’s something done to manipulate people.”
            R= Exactly

            When LL was doing the interview, he surely was thinking how people will react to his words, and filtered those words to his convenience.

            I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, that’s just the way it works.
            ¡We all do that anyway!

  3. “The last of the main points that López makes is something that I have tried to convey on the blog – that the idea that the protests “strengthened” the government, or that the opposition is “weak,” is nonsense. The government’s numbers have never been this low, and as Leopoldo himself points out, any opposition candidate would easily beat Maduro right now, according to opinion polls. ”

    I believe that leftists with different tones of red all over the world were so fast to say that the “protests were actually strengthening the Venezuelan government” in a desperate attempt to curb dissent toward their beloved president. And some honest (yet clueless) oppositionists fell for it (even some in CC), and started repeating the same thing like parrots.

    If mass riots against the Castros start in Cuba today, these same people will probably say that they are “strengthening” Fidel Castro’s position. What would be laughable assuming that the despot is in power for 50 years. I mean, you can’t get stronger than that, dear people. But they will say that not because they do believe that the government is being fortified, but in order to stop the protests and protect Fidel’s government. They always have their commie government’s best interest at heart, not the opposition’s.

  4. Is important to know if the opposition-chavismo match is 2-0, 2-3,1-1…? I don’t think so. It is impossible to know when this regime will crumble, only that it will do it. I recommend to read the first (and very good) post of this blog, 12 years ago to see basically the same madness and the same problems that Venezuela has now. The situation in Cuba is also very bad but no change is on sight.

    Meanwhile, you can feel sorry?, wonder? laugh?… with people’s desperation by reading (just in diagonal and in less than a minute; word by word may make you lose your nerves) this aporrea post http://aporrea.org/actualidad/a195290.html You can almost feel yourself the pain of this chavista.

    • That’s unreadable lol!

      I think I’ve got the point… Still amazes me these wankers only say something when they don’t receive what they want from this bad joke who governs Venezuela

      • yes, it is unreadable but you can still get the gist of it. Some chavistas say sth. when they don’t receive what they want but others are the opposite and have complaints because they feel that they don’t have enough revolution.

        • I scrolled all the way down, to see “chavez always spoke us with truth.”
          BWAHAHAHAHAA! Gimme a tissue, folks, I’m gonna cry over so much jalabolismo and dissociation! Hahahahaha! xD
          Every chavista that truly “complains”, “criticizes” or “sees a fault” on their sacred system, should begin for the worst screwup of all: Excuse a treacherous murderer like the corpse from all guilt and responsibilities.
          As long as they don’t accept that every disgrace from the last 15 years is a direct fault from the corpse, they can whine all they want, I’ll just point and laugh at their fake misery.

          • I felt pity for that guy anyway and I sent him this email.

            Estimado Joels

            He leído su artículo en aporrea y lamento todo lo que le ha ocurrido. De todos modos y sin querer culparle a usted de nada porque no la tiene, quizás debió pensar antes de iniciar todos esos trámites que si en su país (soy español) no tienen dinero para comprar algodones o suturas en los hospitales, por la escasez la gente hace colas sin saber lo que se vende (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVzw8OlTXPQ&list=UUAjtgPVAV3rwlu0k5nm-Dcw ), nadan en petróleo pero no tienen aceite para carro (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM9xa7Z62FM&list=UUAjtgPVAV3rwlu0k5nm-Dcw)… y pasan por todas las penalidades que usted conoce mucho mejor que yo, era de esperar que irse al extranjero a estudiar sea un lujo que Venezuela simplemente no se lo puede permitir. Haber sido consciente de esto con antelación le hubiese ahorrado el enorme dolor y frustración que deja soltar ahora en su artículo(espero que lo haya conseguido) pero desgraciadamente usted no está solo en esto y muchos de sus conciudadanos todavía apoyan a un gobierno que mantiene una política errónea y luego echa las culpas a los demás, o directamente se inventa los enemigos.

            En cualquier caso, no desespere porque ya verá que si realmente quiere estudiar lo conseguirá de un modo u otro.

          • You could send him a couple of posts from some “chavistas bien revolucionarios” who blatantly take advantage from the currency monopoly and have no shame in flaunting it as much as possible, there’s one example of one such idiot saying that while trolling people in dolar today, his post was more or less like:

            “Entró aquí a ver a cuanto esta red escuálida me aumenta el sueldo todos los días, lo hago con mucho gusto y placer, como el tonto sistema me paga. Y yo soy es ilusionista. Feliz noche caballeros, ojalá llegue a 100 esta semana”

            I only need a bit of malice to send that message to another chavista so that poor moronic troll gets his ass imprisoned for using the black market (I bet the guy was so stupid he posted his entire life in his facebook…)

          • …interesting… I think I will send him that too, surely there are many chavistas like that… also the caracaschronicles link… maybe he now likes majunches, who knows…

          • Hi, my name is Joels Hidalgo, creator to the famous post in aporrea,I’m flattered when people like you commenting on things they do not understand, in fact i don’t have many words for you, if you want to say something interesting can write to my email, because, Ramon, i speak with you, dont say more lies, you never wrote a email for me, any of you dont understand my written because they are very short of mind, if you look a little beyond their noses can understand mi last sentence about the chavez always spoke with the true, all my article speaks of lies, including mi ironic last phrase, lol, you are so funny, and i accept when you want to discuss. You call me “Chavista”? ajajaj i want to stop to hear stupid things, i invite to read again, may be you understand this time

          • Hola Joels, encantado de verte por aquí. Puedes escribir en español si quieres. Aquí la mayor parte lo entiende. Sí que te he enviado ese email. Se titulaba “me solidarizo con sus problemas con CADIVI” y en mi carpeta de mensajes enviados que tengo abierta ahora mismo aparece tu dirección joelvzla@hotmail.com No sé quien cuenta mentiras, si tú, los de yahoo o los de hotmail diciendo que envié algo que no llegó y no informándome de ello como suelen hacer pero lo cierto es que lo hice. Sería ridículo por mi parte molestarme en escribir o inventarme un email solo para colocarlo en los comentarios de esta página. Te lo vuelvo a enviar ahora mismo. Si quieres hablar entonces escríbeme a mi dirección.
            un saludo desde España

  5. On the subject of whether venezuelan people are generally stupid , as Borges poignantly points out: tyranny fosters stupidity , not because those supporting it are naturally stupid but because by viscerally falling for an emotionally exciting and self flattering albeit delusional form of thinking they became incapable of fully excercising their faculties of critical analytical thought and are thus reduced to thinking stupidly , or incoherently or irrationally !! this makes them impervious to rational dialogue. Their minds are shut in by their heartfelt prejudices.

    This makes those who take pleasure in professing the cult of Chavismo people who are willing to live any lie and fantasy because of the emotional gratification such sectarism brings them .

    The sad thing that when otherwise rational people have to confront an aggresive abusive closed sectarian system of belief they become infected with the attitudes of their rivals and their minds become clouded by passions which mimic in part that of those they oppose. !!

    You become brutalized by the brutality of those you confront. !!

    • Stupid people are easier to manipulate.
      You’re right, tyranny fosters stupidity, and it does so through instilling artificial hatred to their followers.
      I bet almost every chavista was taught to hate the other venezuelans, so they can put up with every screwup from this regime.

    • Stupidity is a coping strategy under clientelist and authoritarian regimes, or places mired in massive and inept bureaucracy. I can say this with some confidence because I become quite stupid, or more stupid, when navigating certain problems or issues in Venezuela myself. I think Venezuelans have a number of smart expressions for this kind of stupidity. I can’t remember them at the moment. Perhaps even a whole lexicon. At a certain point, the patience and self-abnegation required to maintain this kind of stupidity runs out, and stupidity quickly turns to fury.

  6. “… saying that Venezuelans don’t need talk about “dictatorships” or “freedom” because they don’t care about such abstract concepts. ”

    Wasn’t this the very same thing that the sonufabitch Caldera said right after the infamous cuban-instigated riots in the 27 feb of 89 (aka caracazo)?

    Or he said that to defend the wax doll’s coup in 1992, claiming that “people wouldn’t care about democracy if it couldn’t fill their stomachs.”

  7. I read the whole interview, and besides my personal opinion about la Salida, I believe his explanation of the reason why he turned himself in just doesn’t quite make sense.
    The sequence of events and the justification just doesn’t follow any sort of logic, I believe he is hiding his true incentives.
    In any case I also think that he is to set on being right.
    This is not about being right but about doing what is right for Venezuela. Sometimes that includes admitting you made a mistake, sometimes it means working behind the scenes, sometimes it is putting personal ambitions behind a unified effort.
    I think sometimes pride gets in the way of politics, and Leopoldo has way too much pride for his own good, and for the country’s.

    • Then he would have just accepted leaving the country and being seen by the opposition as “just another spineless coward” like Ortega and Rosales.

      • Exactly. I think his decision makes perfect sense. He couldn’t stay in hiding, endangering the people who were keeping him, and he couldn’t have left the country, because it went against his ideals and it would have been political suicide. Therefore, he chose the only other available path.

        Fabiana, what would you have done?

        • I personally I would’ve stay in hiding. For sure. He would’ve have been way more effective. I don’t think you should establish an ethic boundary or responsibility over the fate of those protecting you. Nor can you make your self responsible for what happens when you call for protest. It is a voluntary act done by those protecting you.

          You can question those ethical issues if you had done something wrong. But not when you are fighting against injustice.

        • I totally agree that he had to turn himself in. It was his best choice as you say to not commit political suicide. But that is not what he is saying. And also, I totally don’t anything he is saying about Diosdado, maybe only the part when he called the TSJ president.
          I believe that for what his goal is, he is doing what he had to do. I also think it is the result of making a deal with the devil. I am pretty sure he thought he would be out by now. I really don’t buy his reasoning and the way he is trying to sell it, and especially, the fact that he talks like he is so holier than thou.
          I sincerely am tired of caudillo style politics.
          If we want to be different, we need to act different. Not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

  8. Many Caribbean countries including Venezuela, my country and others have a mean IQ of 84 so 15% of the population have IQ’s ranging from 0-70 (70 being borderline deficient). Compare that to 2% for a country with a mean IQ of 100 (China, the UK).

    Traditional mores, no longer operative, would have kept that 15% from making decisions harmful to themselves and others… Now politicians have to pander to that 15% in ways that harm society as a whole.

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