14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 July 2017 — Authoritarian regimes must learn some lessons: imprisoning opponents increases their prestige. The government of Nicolás Maduro forgot that basic political truth and is now harvesting the fruits. This Saturday’s release of Leopoldo López from Ramo Verde Prison will bring unpredictable results for the dictatorship installed in Miraflores Palace.
Lopez has rejoined his family, although freedom is still far away. Now he must remain under house arrest, an electronic bracelet controls his movements and the operation around his house seems unbreachable. He’s stuck in a new perimeter, but he has the relief of hugging his kids, kissing his wife and looking out the windows at his city.
Every ladder has a first rung and today the one that leads to full freedom for the government opponent has been delineated. Venezuela’s oil oligarchy has released him from jail, hoping that this gesture will reduce the tension in the streets and allow the government to impose a Constituent Assembly so it can cement the totalitarian system within the country. A dismal calculation.
Lopez radiates freedom wherever he is. It doesn’t matter if he can’t access a phone, write a tweet, or accompany his compatriots in the protests. The symbols are there without being there, and in this he has become the founder of the Popular Will party. It has escaped the ruling party that putting him behind bars converted him into a symbol.
The Maduro government has chosen a fairly elegant excuse for granting release to Lopez, who has been in prison since 2014 and who was sentenced to almost 14 years; it is because of “health problems,” according to Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ).
However, the first images of the prisoner upon arriving home show him vital and smiling. The excuse of an illness only tries to mask a truth as big as a mountain: the protests in the streets have forced the government to yield. The move from prison to house arrest is a victory for the Venezuelan opposition.
Chavismo is shaken and now must deal with a Leopoldo Lopez who no longer knows the narrowness of a cell, who again wakes up with his family, and more expeditiously receives information about what is happening beyond the walls of his house. His political reach grows by the hour.
Every day that passes within that domestic enclosure, Lopez will continue to accumulate support. Letting him out is a headache for the populism that has hijacked the South American country, but keeping him in prison is worse. The Venezuelan government is up against an insoluble dilemma: if it releases the opponent, it loses; if it continues to hold him, it also loses.
Nicolas Maduro’s time is past, although right now he is surrounded by opportunists who applaud and nod. Leopoldo Lopez is the future, even though his cell is the size of a house filled with love but lacking in freedom. All that’s left is to get around those walls.