Big news in Venezuela last night, as Leopoldo López —the nation’s most popular political leader and highest-profile political prisoner— is shifted from jail into house arrest: a major concession from a regime that had spent untold resources demonizing this.

There are, of course, a million interpretations out there, and it’s far from clear what exactly it means.

But reading between the lines, and one early conclusion seems certain: former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s fingerprints are all over this.

First, there’s the fact that every single major media outlet in Spain seemed to have the middle-of-the-night story before anyone in Venezuela did. Then there’s this communiqué from former Venezuelan Foreign Minister and crazy lady Delcy Rodríguez:

Reading between the lines —or, really, in the lines— the message here is clear. Rodríguez Zapatero, who had recently been threatening to pull out of the mediation role altogether, is back. He brokered this, and he didn’t broker this for no reason.

What might come next? We’re in the realm of absolute speculation here, but let’s speculate away. I think the outlines of a deal are there to see if you care to look.

The opposition needs to get the government to call off the Constituent Assembly, which represents an existential threat not just to MUD, but to the Venezuelan republic.

The government needs a let-up in protests, which are pushing the security forces and the state as a whole to a series of stress points where major violence, a coup, or some other violent denouement gradually shifts from imaginable to possible to probable to likely.

And Zapatero…well, Zapatero seems to need that Nobel Peace Prize.

Zapatero needed a high-value token to try to jump-start a negotiation —not a “dialogue”, a negotiation.

The government likely understands that doubling down on the Constituyente is a high risk gamble, given the untenable pressures between chavismo and madurismo the proposal is generating: it’ll be glad to find a face-saving way out. The opposition likely understands that it can’t sustain street protests indefinitely in the face of growing violence and repression: it, too, will be glad to find a face-saving way out. For both sides, the risks of doubling down on confrontation are substantial.

The outlines of a deal are visible, if you care to look.

Zapatero needed a high-value token to try to jump-start a negotiation —not a “dialogue”, a negotiation. And now he has that token. Zapatero’s back, bitches, like it or not.

And if this whole line of thinking is close to making your head explode, if it looks obvious to you that it will cause major stresses inside the opposition, if it feels like it has the potential to re-open the old moderates vs. salidistas splits of 2014…well, let me assure you: from the government’s point of view, that is very much the point.

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