Even in Venezuela, where government abuse is an everyday thing, it came as a bombshell: The state attorney who recently prosecuted opposition leader Leopoldo López fled into exile, denouncing the “false evidence” that was used to win a conviction in the high-profile case that drew worldwide condemnation.
There had never been any doubt that Mr. López was railroaded. It was all a put-up job orchestrated by the administration of President Nicolás Maduro, but the prosecutor’s revelations leave the government without a fig leaf to hide behind.
The prosecution of Mr. López has been denounced by human rights groups for lack of the most elementary guarantees of due process and fundamental protections for the accused. But even jaded Venezuelans, who are all too familiar with the sinister nature of the government, were shocked by the public declaration of Franklin Nieves, whose disclosures exposed the utterly corrupt nature of he rogue bunch posing as Venezuela’s government.
In a video posted online a few days ago, Mr. Nieves said he decided to leave the country because he could no longer play his assigned role in the judicial charade against Mr. López. He said he fled with his family “because of the pressure I was under from the executive branch and my superiors to continue to defend the false evidence that was used to convict Leopoldo López.”
Mr. Nieves appears slightly nervous but sincere in the video as he confesses that he could not follow orders to defend the case on appeal. “I couldn’t sleep because of the pain and pressure that I felt continuing with the farce, continuing with this case that unjustly violated the rights of this person.”
Mr. Nieves’ admission makes clear that there never was a case to be made against Leopoldo López. It was all a fiction, ordered by Mr. Nieves’ superiors in compliance with Mr. Maduro’s call for the political activist’s arrest and frequent speeches demonizing him. A compliant judge found Mr. López guilty and slammed him with a 13-year sentence for inciting a riot, ignoring evidence of Mr. López’s repeated public calls for nonviolence during peaceful protests against the government.
The credibility of the Venezuelan government has been in tatters for years, even before the late Hugo Chávez anointed the bumbling Mr. Maduro as his successor, but this erases whatever doubts diehard believers may have harbored.
At this point, it should be perfectly obvious that Venezuela’s emperor has no clothes. Only the most gullible, intellectually blind or nakedly partisan supporters of the gang in Miraflores Palace can believe otherwise.
For Mr. Maduro and his cronies, this is only the latest in a cascade of bad news. The economy is hanging on by a thread as the price of oil slumps, and now the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the state-owned oil company was used to launder billions of dollars through corrupt schemes.
Now, even some formerly reliable Latin American allies are bailing out. Recently, a respected electoral tribunal from Brazil withdrew from the South American observer mission to the upcoming December elections, saying it could not guarantee fairness under the government’s rules. Based on previous elections, they’re correct.
The hapless Mr. Maduro will find it impossible to muddle through. His government has no realistic survival strategy. The noose is tightening. The only rational option is to reverse course, beginning by freeing Mr. López and initiating a dialogue with the opposition that can produce an agreement to hold genuinely free elections. It’s not too late to avert a disaster, but time is clearly running out.