Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza — “López was Capriles before Capriles himself...”

To Maduro’s astonishment, López is still there, now turned into an icon of the resistance move- ment from the Ramo Verde military prison.

After several days in hiding, Leopoldo López, one of the leaders of Venezuela’s resistance move- ment, turned himself in at a massive march proclaiming: “If my imprisonment serves to wake up the country... then it will have been worth it”.

The Chavista dictatorship headed by Nicolás Maduro has charged him with acts of violence related to recent protests. Actually, as several testimonies and large amounts of graphic evidence demonstrate, the violence has been perpetrated by the paramilitary groups, known as “colectivos” (collective groups), which the government has armed and praised as protectors of the Bolivarian revolution.

These militias are similar to those the Cuban government routinely uses against its critics. It should not astonish. Cuba actively supports the Venezuelan regime and has played a key role in the design and operation of the security apparatus. Maduro’s bonds to Havana go back to the1980s, when he was trained at the infamous Escuela Superior del Partido Comunista, also known as “Ñico López.” Deserters from the intelligence services have stated that he has had close links with Castro’s America Department, in charge of spreading the revolution across Latin America.

Why is Leopoldo López so dangerous? For a number of reasons:

1. He is fearless. The world has recently discovered him, but Venezuelans have known him for a very long time.

2. Although his lineage goes back to Bolivar’s independence struggle, he has no relationship with the four decades that preceded Chavez’s rise to power—known as “puntofijismo” after the Punto Fijo Pact signed in 1958 by the mainstream political parties and associated in the minds of government supporters with corruption and a deep social chasm. The Chavez regime has built its revolutionary legitimacy on the demonization of the democratic period, the “old régime” that Venezuela was supposed to leave behind. But López, who is only 42 years old, rose to fame together with other young leaders, including Henrique Capriles —the man who led the opposition in last year’s rigged elections— as a member of Primero Justicia (Justice First), a new political organization that started during the time when the deceased Chávez rose to power.

3. For several years, López was more popular than Chávez even though he was the mayor of a small Caracas municipality. Fearing him as a potential contender, the government forbade him from holding any political office. The vacuum in the opposition was eventually filled by Capriles. However, López was Capriles before Capriles himself.

4. López is a survivor, a rare condition in a man of his social roots if you see the world through the lens of class struggle. Although the Chavista machinery was able to push the opponent (a Harvard former student) aside by taking away his rights, to Maduro’s astonishment, López is still there, now turned into an icon of the resistance movement from the Ramo Verde military prison.

5. He has shown a sense of the epic, a political quality more usually associated with the left in Latin America. There is no successful resistance movement without an epic narrative. As a matter of fact, López is writing it.

6. He also has a sense of political aesthetics. Walter Benjamin spoke of the aesthetization of politics within a different context. The sequence that began with the protests of February 14 and ended with the moving images of López turning himself in will be legendary. The hero —dressed in white, holding a flag and some flowers—, a father of two little children, kissed his wife goodbye amid a sea of supporters and subsequently turned himself in to the National Guard thugs, who brutally shoved him into an armored vehicle.

For Venezuelan freedom lovers, those images will be the equivalent of that day in 1992 when an unknown lieutenant colonel, Hugo Chávez, appeared on TV following his failed coup attempt against President Carlos Andrés Pérez and announced that “for the moment” his objectives had not been achieved.

7. López has understood that pressure in the streets (peaceful civil resistance) is essential for the struggle against tyranny. Therefore, together with the deputy María Corina Machado and the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, he has engaged in what he calls “the way out” in order to force a transition to the Rule of Law. For Maduro and his Cuban supporters this is a major prob- lem. Such “way out” threatens their strategy, designed to perpetuate the regime by taking all hope of change away from the millions of victims after fifteen long years of authoritarian populism. They want Venezuelan critics to become what Cuban dissidents are currently—an immensely heroic but politically impotent group of people that the government has no trouble overwhelming when it makes too much noise.

Maduro and the Cubans are right: López is a dangerous guy.

avllosa@independent.org Susana Abad (@susanaabad) @ElIndependent

(Translated by Antonio Sarmiento Marabotto Translations)