From Madrid, where he is in exile, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, 50, observes the unfolding of the protests in Cuba last Sunday (11), and how the protests will impact his country.
For him, who spent seven years in prison under the Maduro regime, the arrest of former deputy Freddy Guevara the day after the events on the island is a frightening reaction of the Chavistas to what is happening in Havana.
López, responsible for leading the 2014 protests in Venezuela and one of the architects of the strategy to promote Juan Guaidó as leader of the opposition, says the government is trying to invent justifications for not participating in the negotiations of the national salvation accord proposed by his party, the Popular Will.
In Folha, by videoconference, he also said that he does not believe that the regional elections in November will be fair, despite the regime allowing opponents to join the CNE (National Electoral Council).
What do the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes have in common today? Both have a system of social control, destruction of opportunity, repression and violence in place. That is why we consider a demonstration in Cuba to be our own. It may be difficult for democratic countries to see these protests as such an important event, but they are, given how much every citizen risks taking to the streets in a country where there is no state of mind. law. I hope the protests on the island can continue over time.
At the same time, there will be many difficulties – and for that I ask for international attention. We will have reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, defamation of defenders of democracy and even deaths. These acts, like those of Venezuela, are different from those of Chile or Colombia, which are democratic countries. In dictatorships, a person risks his life and that of his family by joining these movements.
How closely are the two dictatorships linked? When the Chávez dictatorship began to radicalize and Chávez spoke of aiming for the “sea of happiness” that was Cuba, we thought that would never materialize. We said there was a democratic tradition in Venezuela, a civil society, a business, a media that would never bow to authoritarianism. And we saw how these fortresses fell one by one, even our young people, who always believed that they were going to rebel, fell silent after the strong repression of 2017. [quando houve eleição à Assembleia Constituinte].
And this happened precisely because the Cuban model was applied, which energizes the hopes, the work, the family and the friends of those who rebel, until they resign or leave the country. How it happened en masse in both cases. Today, in Venezuela, there is a very effective system of social control, through the “carninhos da patria”. Without them, a person cannot buy food or medicine.
This is why a lot of people sign up and get a QR code. Thanks to it, they control their purchases, their movements across the country. Now we have a worse situation than Cuba, which we could not imagine because our country was richer and more democratic. Today the firewood is cooked, and the shortage is enormous.
You were incarcerated at Ramo Verde Penitentiary in Caracas for seven years. Did you feel the Cuban playing there? At first, not much. I have always had a good relationship with the guards and the police who controlled my daily life, both in Ramo Verde and later under house arrest in Caracas. But I saw how the influence of Cuba became more present. I was arrested in 2014. There were four jailers just to watch me. We cultivated a good relationship, laughed about things, talked a lot. In 2015, I went on a hunger strike with other opponents outside, due to the parliamentary elections that year. After that, I saw that they had totally changed their behavior.
They didn’t speak to me directly, they didn’t record any dialogue, they looked serious and frowned. After a while, I asked one of them, the closest, what had happened. And he told me that they had trained with Cubans on how to treat a political prisoner and that they were obliged to do so. Now apply this to all political prisoners. I wonder what’s happening to Freddy Guevara right now. It is the same. The same model.
There are criticisms in the opposition itself for the fact that you in the Popular Will have not yet succeeded in overthrowing the regime. What do you attribute this to? We have not achieved our goal until today. It’s a fact. We made mistakes, but it must be said that it was not because we are weak, but because there was a violent repression which prevented us from continuing to act and people from continuing in the streets. We don’t give up and we won’t give up. It is not easy to fight a dictatorship in this economic situation and in a pandemic.
We have had, among the sympathizers and activists, more than 500 detainees since 2019. We currently have more than 100 political prisoners who belong to the Popular Will. Of these, five are very relevant, like Freddy Guevara, from whom we have not even had proof of life, we do not know where he is. We have to deal with families and the psychological burden of everything they do to us.
Yet we led the protests in 2014, when I was arrested, and in 2017, when they imposed the Constituent Assembly through a fraudulent election. And in 2015, we were among the political forces that fought the most for the parliamentary elections won by the opposition. In addition, since 2019, we have maintained the constitutional succession project under the leadership of the incumbent President Juan Guaidó.
There have been episodes of violence on the border with Colombia and in the western region of Caracas, during clashes between gangs and security forces. What is happening? Maduro was defeated in the same territories where he had previously decided to set up “zones of peace”. It was there that he financed groups to keep control of the territory. This goes for the border region, with the support of Venezuelan and Colombian criminal groups, and for the “red” suburb of Caracas, where he has installed the collectives. [forças paramilitares]. Today, the economic crisis affects everyone, and that is why these same groups have turned against the regime. Maduro tried to intervene by force to reclaim these territories, at the border and in Caracas, and he is losing this war, he is instigating even more violence.
the business of [gangue] Cota 905, in Caracas, is an example of a force previously controlled by the Chavismo that has grown completely out of control and is now facing the regime. Not for a political question strictly speaking, but for a territorial dispute, criminal elsewhere.
This week, Jorge Rodríguez, the head of Chavez’s National Assembly, said Maduro’s alleged assassination attempt and the assassination of Jovenel Moïse were linked. He also stressed, without providing evidence, that those who killed the Haitian president had links with the Venezuelan opposition. Is this an excuse not to integrate future negotiations with opponents? If the dictatorship withdraws from the negotiations, it will be a decision of the dictatorship, not ours. The planned process includes the United States and Europe, at the international level, and the Venezuelan opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, at home. The dictatorship seeks to divide us, and this theory is one more excuse that the regime invents to justify its departure from the dialogue table. I want to be very clear and categorical: we have nothing to do with these violent programs or any of these episodes. We are committed to the plan to emerge from dictatorship no matter how long it takes.
Maduro tries to revive the Table of Democratic Unity [aliança de partidos opositores criada em 2008], but with aligned opposition. How do you see it? This group of so-called opponents, who feel at ease as a puppet opposition, are pitiful characters, and we hope Venezuelans won’t believe them. They are ready to set up a theater so that Maduro can say that there is opposition in Venezuela.
Do you believe that the next elections, in November, will be democratic? The CNE now has so-called opposition members. There is no point in having non-Chavistas on the board when everyone below him is Chavez. I have no reason to believe that we will have fair regional elections without a real audit of the electoral system, without international observers, without the participation of parties and political leaders who are banned. These so-called opposition advisers say they can reverse these bans, but that will depend on negotiations with Maduro. We will not be complicit in this.
How is your life in Madrid? I don’t want to stay outside of Venezuela. I had to leave because of political circumstances. On the other hand, here in Spain, I manage to stay with my children and my wife, from whom I had to stay away for seven years. I am divided. Part of me is in Venezuela all day, working, campaigning, in meetings. On the other hand, it’s good to know that my family is safe.