Caracas, May 25th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s chief ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, has publicly refuted international media reports that imprisoned politician, Leopoldo Lopez, has gone on hunger strike.
On Sunday, international journalists took to the web to announce Lopez’s “hunger strike” after he released a video on Saturday evening in which he claimed that he and fellow jailed far right leader Daniel Ceballos, ex-mayor of San Cristobal, would refuse to eat as a form of political protest.
But a leaked conversation featuring Lopez suggests that the “strike” is part of yet another attempt to destabilise the Bolivarian government.
Both Ceballos and Lopez were arrested in early 2014 for their role in inciting violent anti-government street mobilizations known as the “barricades” which resulted in the deaths of forty three people. The wave of street violence was later found to have been infiltrated by rightwing paramilitaries.
In the video, filmed from inside Ramo Verde prison where Lopez is being held during his trial, the politician appears unshaven, in a white t-shirt and donning a crucifix. He is standing in front of what seems to be a doorway.
“For these reasons, the permanent violations of our human rights… Brother Daniel Ceballos and I have taken the decision to begin today, Friday, a hunger strike. A hunger strike with a very specific demand. Number one: the liberation of political prisoners, secondly, the termination of persecution, repression and censorship and thirdly, that a definitive date be set for parliamentary elections,” states the leader of the ultra-right Popular Will party.
Aside from announcing the hunger strike, Lopez also demands electoral monitoring missions from the Organization of the American States (OAS) and European Union (EU) to accompany the upcoming elections and makes a renewed call for mass protests against the government this coming Saturday.
“A year and three months on from our call, the situation is worse than last year…Brother and sister Venezuelans, we want to call on you for a protest, a resounding protest, massive, pacific, without any kind violence, on the streets of Venezuela this Saturday,” announces Lopez.
Yet an audio recording leaked on Monday by state agencies suggests that Lopez’s video is part of a wider plan to bring down the government through a combination of civil unrest and violence.
In the recording, which appears to be a secret conversation between Lopez and Ceballos held prior to the release of Lopez’s video, both men can be heard concocting a strategy to deal a fatal blow to the elected government of Nicolas Maduro. The plan includes mass protests infiltrated by snipers to sow civil unrest as well as mounting camps outside of the United Nations headquarters.
The strategy seems to mirror the tactics used in 2014’s violent barricades for which both men are currently under arrest.
“That video has to go out now, in the nighttime, and call on the people, a massive march on Saturday against this shit, pal,” begins Ceballos.
The background noise of birds tweeting suggest that the audio track was recorded in the same place as Lopez’s video, which also features almost identical backdrop sounds.
“We have to have the infiltrators planted wherever we go,” continues Ceballos, in an apparent reference to snipers placed at strategic points during marches.
Both politicians go on to talk of “groups” of activists and their “students” in Maracay, Barquisimeto and Tachira who are prepared to “bust their balls” for the plan. The groups are allegedly led by figures such as Raul Emilio Baduel, Raul Isaias Baduel, and Jose Vicente, who they describe as a “professional coup-maker”.
While Barquisimeto is in the west of the country, Maracay is just next to the capital and has one of the country’s most important military bases. Located on the border with Colombia, Tachira is a breeding ground for rightwing and paramilitary activity against the government.
Despite the apparent confidence which Lopez demonstrates in Saturday’s video, both men appear unsure of how to gauge public reaction to the planned march and are doubtful of obtaining a positive response from the Venezuelan political opposition.
“Do you think people will go out onto the streets in protest? This all depends on how many people we can get together outside,” asks Ceballos.
“The opposition is going to respond harshly against us. If they criticise it, it means, bro, that we can’t count on you guys,” he adds.
“No brother, we can’t count on them,” replies Lopez at the end of the recording.
The opposition Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition has since revealed that it will not support this coming Saturday’s march called by Lopez.
In an official communique, the MUD stated that it “supports and values” the reasons behind the March, but that “circumstances” preclude their participation.
Lopez Not on Hunger Strike
Venezuela’s chief ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, also moved to rebuke claims of the hunger strike on Monday, revealing that he had personally spoken with the prison director of Ramo Verde about the case. He confirmed that his ombudsman’s office had visited Lopez, who ate “breakfast and lunch” on Sunday.
In an interview with Colombia’s “Blu Radio”, Saab also refuted an accusation circulated by Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, that the politician was being kept in solitary confinement and verified that he had had lunch with his three children on Sunday.
“She should tell the truth… He was even able to see his lawyers,” he stated.
Tintori later acknowledged that the visit had taken place but dismissed it as “insufficient” given that she had not personally seen her husband.
In other comments the ombudsman and longtime Venezuelan human rights activist moved to quash rumours that Ceballos had been moved to a prison “for common criminals” but rather to a new penitentiary centre named the “26th of July" in Guarico state, which was newly opened in February.
“The ombudsman’s office interviewed citizen Daniel Ceballos in his new place of confinement and verified his good state of health,” revealed the ombudsman.
In an apparent jibe at the global media’s reporting of Venezuelan politics, Saab vowed that the ombudsman’s office would continue to “do its job” although it would probably “go unrecognised”.
Hunger strikes have been a consistent method used by the Venezuelan opposition to protest against the government and as a platform to demand the presence of the United Nations or Organization of American States in the country.
The most notorious cases include the hunger strikes led by rightwing JAVU (Active Youth, United Venezuela) student activists in 2011 which were eventually halted due to dialogue with the government.