Franklin Nieves, the prosecutor-on-the-run who admits to wrongfully convicting Leopoldo López, has been making the rounds with US media, and gave a teary interview to the Wall Street Journal. It’s nice to finally see Nieves display some actual contrition, after his first public statement amounted to a self-serving, victimizing rant.
“Leopoldo López is innocent. […] From my heart, I want to ask for forgiveness from Venezuela, Leopoldo López’s, López’s wife, the López family, and especially from their children.”
(In an ironic, hollywood-worthy twist, it turns out that Mr. Nieves’s daughter goes to the same school as Leopoldo’s.)
This interview is also the first time Nieves explicitly discusses how the trial was politically motivated, and how judicial personnel were intimidated into carrying out orders from the Executive.
“Mr. Nieves said judges and prosecutors were pressured to convict political opponents of the regime by their superiors, who would give them their orders verbally in frequent meetings.”
The WSJ piece also quotes the Venezuelan Attorney General’s statements on the matter, who, not surprisingly, was quick to deny Nieves’s “antinational” allegations.
“He ceded to the pressures of foreign factors and sectors of the country, not the Attorney General’s Office. The prosecutor’s office doesn’t pressure anyone.”
The WSJ piece goes on to predict that this latest whistleblowing scandal will likely “deepen the country’s political crisis,” and have an effect on December’s parliamentary election results. Initially, I would tend to disagree.
Similarly explosive scandals of the past have been ineffective in swinging the electorate, since issues like judicial autonomy tend to take a backseat to more immediate voter concerns. Nevertheless, how Nieves-gate resonates with disgruntled chavistas in the polls will ultimately depend on Leopoldo’s communications team, which, in the past, has proven to be quite competent given its lack of access to mass media.
I’m definitely not holding my breath for Leopoldo’s release.
My money is more on the long-term political effects of this smoking gun, and how it will affect international relations with the Venezuelan government in the context of its crumbling popularity, international isolation and a collapsed economy. Nieves’s increasingly detailed statements round out the Human Rights chapter in an increasingly comprehensive case against the government. Put these things together, and you have all the ingredients for a big time governance crisis.