FREEDOM IS ALWAYS GOOD FOR SOMEBODY — BUT WHO?
I was supposed to record with Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press’ Andean Bureau Chief, on Friday, but things came up, as they will in Venezuela, where he’s spent the past month, directing AP’s coverage of a country heading towards… who knows what.
The postponement turned out to be a good thing, because by the time we did record on Sunday, there had been a significant new development: the government on Saturday released from prison the prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez will remain under house arrest, and although he’s unlikely to be allowed to hold large gatherings or solicit supportive crowds, he is expected to be able to receive visitors, even political visitors. This is a right he enjoyed in prison, so even sequestered at home, he’s likely to have some political contact and influence.
So, is this a victory for “the opposition?”
Is this a sign that, 3 days after one of his armed gangs stormed the Parliament building and beat and bloodied legislators with iron bars and wooden staves, even President Nicolas Maduro realizes he went too far? Did the reverb from the viral video of his “colectivo’s” desecration of the National Assembly on Venezuela’s Independence Day disturb Maduro enough to make him want to rekindle talks to calm an increasingly chaotic situation?
Maduro accompanied the announcement of Lopez’ conditional un-imprisonment with a call for negotiations aimed at ending 100 days of public protests and beat-downs which have killed at least 92 civilians and caused dozens of injuries among security forces.
Or is Lopez’ house arrest part of a deeper game?
Lopez is prominent and charismatic, but he is also considered among the hardest of the hard-liners in the opposition movement. While his return to even limited political activity will please his claque, it may also remind more moderate opponents of the Maduro government that an impetuous right-wing replacement might be worse for them than Maduro has been. Free a martyr; foster a divider.
That large group of Venezuelans who have become estranged from both Maduro and his most vocal opponents might be thinking a good middle-ground choice might be Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz. She’s a long-time Chavista loyalist who recently got off the Maduro bus.
She recently called in one of Maduro’s top generals to be questioned about abusing the human rights of civilian protesters, only to have Maduro’s subservient Supreme Court tell General Benavides he could ignore the Prosecutor’s summons. The Maduro replaced her top deputy and shifted part of Ortega’s jurisdiction shifted to another Maduro drone. She’s fighting all these moves as unconstitutional infringements, and at the same time burnishing her credentials as a “rule of law” Socialist.
Of course, as Maduro noted in releasing Lopez, it was Prosecutor Ortega’s personal enforcement of “rule of Venezuelan law” that put him in prison in the first place.
There are many more interesting complexities in a story which is often reduced to a simplified, if not wholly inaccurate boil-down of “bad ruler, oppressed masses.” That’s why we need 50 minutes for H&T.
The Venezuelan crisis, as very clearly explained by Joshua Goodman, is our subject for Monday