There was no tear gas Friday, when the opposition marched to Ramo Verde to demand the release of Leopoldo López, Venezuela’s highest profile political prisoner. Jailed since 2014 on charges even his prosecutor admits were trumped up, Leopoldo leads Voluntad Popular, and remains the most popular politician in Venezuela even from behind bars.
It wasn’t a usual kind of march. Ramo Verde is up on a hill next to Los Teques, 40 km. southwest of Caracas. We’re in the Altos Mirandinos, far from the opposition’s usual East side Caracas stomping grounds. The logistics were a challenge, but the crowd was decent and spirits were high. Then again, nothing puts an opposition crowd in a better mood than the absence of tear gas.
“I didn’t know about this,” a local guy told me as he joined the protest. “I was going to work but with the Metro and roads closed, I prefer walking back with you.” He was wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt, with his lunch bag still hung over his shoulder.
“I’m chavista, always voted for Chávez, but I can’t support this government anymore. The CLAP food is terrible, but I can’t afford to go to the market. They give us the leftovers from other countries”, he said. About Leopoldo López and the others political prisoners, he is “not sure” if they are guilty or not but they “can’t be worst that these sinvergüenzas“.
Although the way to Ramo Verde was long, the protesters kept up their spirits. “¡¿Quiénes somos? Venezuela ¿Qué queremos? Libertad!!” some yelled from time to time as you could see the flags from Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular leading the crowd.
A women from the neighbourhood was there, filling up the water bottles for protester.
An older lady with a white shirt, white tennis shoes and a “tricolor” hat was walking in the crowd. She told me she’s a widow and her two sons are living outside of Venezuela. She was there “to recover the country, so they can come back. I’m not going anywhere and I´m doing what I can to get rid of this dictatorship”.
Meanwhile, people in cars were cheering: “Freedom”, a lady screamed. “¡Fuera Maduro!”, another driver shouted. Neighbors from the homes along the path also supported the protest. “Y ya cayó, y ya cayó, este gobierno ya cayó”, they sang along with the protesters.
At one point, a queue was organized along the protest route. A woman from the neighborhood was there, filling up the water bottles for protesters. The support of the neighbors energized the crowd.
“I have never been in a protest but I think this is fair,” the owner of a bodega told me, “Venezuela is the best country in the world, but now you have to struggle just to survive. We are starving,” he said to me while he was standing in a corner watching the people.
The change from the usual location for these protests made the logistics more difficult, but the parties managed to organize themselves well enough to bring out a good number of people to a small street, surrounded by humble houses, the closest point to Ramo Verde the GNB would allow us to get.
Some neighbours allow the protesters stand on their rooftops as an impromptu assembly was held.
“I thought that we were going to the street close to Leopoldo’s window, you know? Like in that video were the mom screams at Leopoldo”, a young lady told me. She was wearing tight jeans and a white tank top. In one of her acrylic nails was decorated with a Venezuelan flag. She told me she’s been to every single protest since they started a month ago, along with a group of friends.
“I always liked Leopoldo. He is going to be the next president”, she assures me.
Some neighbors allow the protesters stand on their rooftops as an impromptu assembly was held.
According to Leopoldo’s mom, alarm bells were set off in the cell where the leader of Voluntad Popular is being held so he couldn’t hear the crowd outside. It figures: nothing surprises us anymore from this government.
But the streets of Los Teques know which side they’re on. The calls for Leopoldo’s freedom can’t be silenced forever.