Santa Elena de Uairen, November 18th, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- In a 31 October event held in El Doral, Florida, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez presented to supporters in attendance the need to remove president Nicolas Maduro from power before his term is up.
“If ... there is no democracy in Venezuela, our response is that we must advance in the exit of the government,” said Lopez from the Miami restaurant El Arepazo. “We are absolutely convinced that Maduro must exit sooner rather than later.”
The term “the exit” became the notorious hashtag (#LaSalida) associated with the sometimes violent barricade protests calling for Maduro’s ouster which lasted from February to June of 2014 and resulted in the deaths of 43 people.
A video from the event was posted to Youtube on 3 November, 2013 by the media director of the Foundation for Politically Persecuted Venezuelans Abroad (VEPPEX, for its initials in Spanish).
Caracas newspaper Ultimas Noticias recently put the video into the spotlight in a special investigative report.
The footage begins with Lopez awarding VEPPEX president Jose Antonio Colina a medal for his work in supposedly defending human rights, on behalf of Lopez’s own political party, Popular Will.
Colina is wanted in Venezuela for ties to the coup d’état attempted against Hugo Chavez in 2002. The former Venezuelan sub-lieutenant and alumnus of the United States Air Force Academy is also charged with placing bombs in different buildings in Caracas in 2003, including the consular offices of Colombia and Spain.
After the awards ceremony, Lopez takes the stage to appeal to Miami residents to support his struggle for a “better Venezuela.” He claims that 7 out of 10 Venezuelans believe there was fraud in the 2013 presidential elections following Chavez’s death, which placed Maduro in office.
“If we acknowledge that they stole the elections from us, if we conclude that they have hijacked public power, if we know that they do not fulfill any of the characteristics that make up a democracy, then obviously we cannot adopt the typical attitude of democracy,” asserted Lopez.
The opposition leader mentioned five constitutional methods for removing a leader from office; resignation, public referendum, amendment, reform and lastly, Constituent Assembly. He insisted that each of these methods rely only upon massive popular movements so, while citing scarcity and insecurity as isolated issues, he said his vision is to “weave the discontent together, with a conductive wire” to inspire mass protests under one banner.
“The vehicle we use is secondary,” Lopez continued, “What is important is the determination to reach our goals at any cost.”
Three months later, when the violent street action in Venezuela made international news, members of VEPPEX worked in tandem with a Dade county teachers union to request donations of walkie-talkies, helmets, gloves, goggles, and knee-pads as well as eye-drops to counteract the effects of tear gas and first aid kits to send to “struggling students” in Caracas and San Cristobal.
These materials were used largely by guarimbero or barricade protestors, who distinguished themselves by burning trash and tires, refusing to let civilians pass, causing damage to public transit and buildings including public universities and medical centers, government offices, and confronting security forces with arms and explosives.
During those months, at least 162 politically-motivated attacks on Cuban doctors were reported in Venezuela, in line with the radically anti-communist mentality prevalent in Miami exile culture.
Lopez is currently under arrest and facing trial. As the spokesperson of the street action campaign deemed #LaSalida, he was accused by the Public Ministry of instigating violence and turned himself in on February 18th.
While a United Nations commission has expressed concerns that Lopez’s imprisonment is arbitrary, Lopez himself has refused to attend numerous hearings on the same grounds.
However, Lopez tweeted today that he was in court and “full of strength and faith” in regards to the trial.