Leopoldo Lopez free but not really free
A few days ago, I got the news flash that Leopoldo Lopez, the celebrated political prisoner in Venezuela, was released. My reaction was positive until I got further information, such as this report on the New York Times:
On July 8, the government of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela delivered its most well-known political prisoner, Leopoldo López, to his home. The Supreme Court, which Mr. Maduro effectively controls, said in a one-paragraph statement that it granted Mr. López house arrest on "humanitarian grounds" because of his "health situation." It also mentioned "irregularities in the distribution of the case to a criminal court."
The popular leader of Voluntad Popular, a centrist political party, and one of Mr. Maduro's fiercest critics, Mr. López was arrested in 2014 at the beginning of a brutal crackdown on the huge anti-government protests that he had actively promoted. He was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison, charged with inciting violence during the protests – false allegations based on fabricated evidence, as a prosecutor in the case told me after fleeing the country.
I also spoke with a Venezuelan friend in Miami who gave me further context. My friend made two interesting points:
1) Lopez's release is all about public relations. The Maduro regime is under pressure from OAS members to respect the rule of law. Releasing Lopez is not a sign that Mr. Maduro has suddenly discovered "human rights," but it's better than keeping the man separated from his wife and young children.
2) Maduro may be showing signs of stress. Perhaps all of those demonstrations, and a dead economy, are catching up with the regime. We will give this story a bit more time, especially with Sunday's unofficial vote.
I believe that the P.R. explanation is the real one. Maduro needs to get this issue off the table, and he has for the moment.
The mess in Venezuela continues – a sad reality for those of us who remember that beautiful country of wonderful, friendly people, "shortstops," and beautiful Miss Universe contestants.
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