What finally rattled the Maduro regime enough to release Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, from prison? Is it the more than 85 people who have died in months-long protests against the president? The despicable, bloody attack government forces carried out against opposition lawmakers last week? It can’t be the pressure from the OAS to behave — there hasn’t been much.
So it was a shock and surprise when the immovable object of the repressive regime, apparently colliding with the irresistible force of popular displeasure, released López from prison to house arrest. It was wonderfully unexpected news. Lopez’s multitudes of supporters are elated, wary and aware that it’s just a half step. President Nicolas Maduro and his Supreme Court may have given them a concession, but opposition members should not — and, no doubt, will not — be mollified.
Street uprisings happen daily. Last week, they moved into the opposition-controlled National Assembly in downtown Caracas. Pipe-wielding government supporters, or chavistas, burst into the building, leaving lawmakers bloodied.
The armed aggressors arrived dressed in red (the color of chavismo). Some hid their faces or wore hoods. They detonated small bombs as they stormed the assembly building, where deputies were celebrating Venezuela’s Independence Day. They yelled pro-Maduro slogans — obviously an attempt to intimidate opposition lawmakers.
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As they meted out street justice, a handful of opposition lawmakers stumbled injured and dazed around the assembly’s corridors. Even in strife-torn Venezuela, the brutality was stunning.
Yet, international outrage seemed muted. Is Venezuela in the wrong hemisphere?
Despite the violent aggression, lawmakers rallied to organize a July 16 call for a symbolic plebiscite to reject the Constituent Assembly set up by Maduro in order to stay in power.
It’s crystal clear that the drafting of a new constitution is Maduro’s blatant maneuver to continue to inhabit the presidential palace, although his popularity has fallen to ridiculously low levels in the economically and politically crippled country.
It’s a shame that the Organization of American States last month couldn’t muster the outrage or the votes to approve a resolution that called on the Venezuelan government to abandon the Constituent Assembly and to respect human rights. It tanked, failing to get the 23 votes needed.
The timing of Lopez’s release was telling, as was that of the attack on lawmakers. As they were commemorating the 206th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence, Vice President Tareck El Aissami, along with Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López, made an unscheduled visit. They accused the opposition of having “kidnapped” the legislature, a clear lie.
The opposition did not hijack power. In 2015, its members won legislative elections by an overwhelming majority. But Aissami, spurning reality, summoned “those excluded by the capitalist model and by this stateless political class” to go to the seat of Parliament to ratify their commitment to chavismo.”
Then the mob stormed in.
Leopoldo López, sent to prison on trumped-up charges, has been freed, somewhat. But his country remains in lockdown. The sliver of hope the opposition received provides the impetus to help them continue to resist.