Leopoldo speaks through the cracks

For the first time in more than a year, Leopoldo Lopez spoke to Venezuelans in a video smuggled out of Ramo Verde prison. In it, he announced the beginning of a hunger strike, calling Venezuelans to take to the streets this coming Saturday.

Prior to the video being made public yesterday, the government entered into full freakout mode. López’s co-prisoner, San Cristóbal mayor Daniel Ceballos, was transferred to a prison in Guárico state, while López himself is presumed to remain in Ramo Verde.

Here is my translation of his speech, followed by my impressions:

“For one year and three months, along with more than 70 Venezuelans, we have remained imprisoned for having decried the Venezuelan state as corrupt, inefficient, repressive, and non democratic. In its time, we not only talked about the problem, but we also invited Venezuelans to blaze a path together, peacefully and democratically, that would allow us to force a change as allowed by the Constitution. The government’s response has been implacable: repression, violence, people detained, wounded, and dozens of deaths. Many of those who have died did so at the hands of agents of the State and of groups linked to the government clique. Many of these deaths are wrapped today in the impunity and complicity of Venezuelan justice, and of those who now hold power.

After one year and three months of our call, the situation is worse: more lines, higher inflation, more scarcity, more crime, more corruption, and even serious accusations of drug smuggling on the part of people at the top of the government. Today, the inmense majority of Venezuelans want a change, but like us, both democracy and the common citizen in Venezuela are imprisoned. We are the prisoners of a corrupt elite whose only interest is to hold on to power.

For these reasons, for the permanent violations to our rights and to our families, for the violations to the present and the future of millions of Venezuelans, Daniel Ceballos and I have decided to go on hunger strike, a hunger strike with three concrete petitions.

First, freedom for political prisoners.

Second, a halt to persecution, repression, and censorship.

Third, a definitve announcement of the date for the Parliamentary Elections, and that these elections, which will be a step towards the peaceful, demoractic change that millions of Venezuelans desire, be accompanied by electoral observers from the OAS and the European Union.

Likewise, Venezuelan brothers and sisters, we want to invite you to go to the streets of Venezuela this Saturday, and to do so peacefully, massively, with no violence. Let’s go out into the streets with our brothers and sisters, and no regard for ideology, party affiliation, in order to show that we are on the side of change for Venezuela. Let’s take the streets peacefully and democratically.

Let’s not lose hope. Let’s not lose faith. Brothers, sisters, we, from jail, are full of strength and faith. We ask you to remain hopeful so that together, soon, we can open the doors to a new Venezuela. God bless you, God bless Venezuela, and may He help us foster the change that we all deserve in peace and democracy.”

In the video, López appears calm and serene. He breaks into a bit of a smile toward the end, but the overall tone of the video is ominous. He seems to understand the seriousness of the situation, and he is clearly in touch with what is going on, even mentioning the recent scandals involving Diosdado Cabello and drug smuggling. As for his concrete petitions, the second one is … well, not concrete at all.

The video has caused quite a stir in Venezuela. My bet is that Saturday people will take to the streets massively. It might be just the thing to stir Venezuelans and wake them up from the slumber they seem to be in.

The important thing about the video, though, is that security at Ramo Verde is less tight than the government would like to think. It is hard to believe López’s people managed to get the camera in, and get the video out, without the cooperation from somebody on the inside.

Up until now, the government had been remarkably efficient in preventing any leaks from López from getting out. The video indicates there are cracks in Ramo Verde.

What does this say about the internal cohesion of chavismo? We’ll find out soon enough.