Caracas, May 28, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s chief ombudsman Tarek William Saab confirmed yesterday that jailed far right politicians Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos have refused to eat since Monday as part of a planned hunger strike announced on Saturday.
Pledging to defend the human rights of the jailed opposition leaders, Saab assured that both men remained hydrated and were attended constantly by a medical team.
Ever Widening Cracks in the Opposition
In a video released from Ramo Verde prison on Saturday evening, Lopez announces the hunger strike and calls for a new round of mass street mobilizations beginning this Saturday until the government meets his demands, which include freeing rightwing leaders on trial for anti-government violence as well as disclosing the date of parliamentary elections later this year.
Lopez’s call to protest this Saturday has however been spurned by the main opposition coalition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), which on Tuesday cited “circumstances” that prevented their endorsement of the march, despite claiming that it “supports and values” the principles guiding the demonstration.
The move by the opposition leadership received vocal backing from Lara governor, Henri Falcon, who rejected renewed calls for anti-government street mobilizations, affirming “there is no exit [of the Chavistas from power] but via the electoral path” in reference to last year’s violent opposition protests led by Lopez that demanded the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro and resulted in the deaths of 43 people.
Suspicions that Saturday’s protest might be part of a larger rightwing destabilization plan were confirmed on Monday by a leaked audio recording, allegedly between Lopez and Ceballos, in which the Popular Will leaders can be heard discussing similar violent street tactics to those seen during last year’s protests known as the barricades, alluding to the placing of snipers along the route of the march.
Nonetheless, Miranda governor and perennial presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski vowed to participate in the march, stressing the need for “unity without division” within an opposition that appears to be rapidly splintering apart.
The cracks in the opposition further widened on Wednesday with the release of a new audio recording allegedly between Lopez and Ceballos which reveals harsh criticisms of fellow opposition leaders. Both Lopez and Ceballos were arrested last year for their role in promoting the 2014 “barricades” and were both being held together at Ramo Verde prison until Ceballos was moved last week.
In the recording, the two politicians appear to discuss the possibility of running their own list of candidates independent of the MUD in this year’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
“They’ll illegalize us with this […] We can’t run our own candidate list,” they are heard saying.
The Popular Will leaders also disparage Henrique Capriles, the only opposition figure to endorse Saturday’s march, chastising him as a “teacher’s pet” and called those affiliated to his party “pansies”(mariquitos).
The sharp divisions within the MUD are likely to impact on upcoming legislative elections, which until recently were predicted to witness a surge in support for the opposition amid a recession triggered by decade low oil prices.
These projections been thrown into question in recent weeks following the MUD’s May 17th primaries which were conducted in less than half of the country’s circuits and saw mass abstention with the majority of candidates handpicked by party elites.
Lopez’s wife Tintori also sparked controversy in the run up to Saturday’s march by publishing a tweet on Tuesday that she subsequently deleted, claiming that her account was “hacked”.
“Even if it costs the lives of thousands of Venezuelans!!!! We will continue to fight for a #Venezuela of progress and wellbeing.”
The statement contrasts sharply with prior calls for protesters to wear white and remain nonviolent, echoing similar declarations made by Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez inciting violent street protests in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Rightwing Ex-Presidents to Attend Saturday Rally
The ex-presidents of Colombia and Bolivia, Andres Pastrana and Jorge Quiroga, arrived in Caracas today in order to attend Saturday’s demonstration on the invitation of Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori.
The former presidents signed a statement last month condemning Venezuela for human rights violations, joining 24 other heads of state, including several notorious human rights abusers, such as Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, and El Salvador’s Alfredo Cristiani.
For his part, Pastrana is widely recognized as the architect of Plan Colombia, a US anti-drug initiative that has over the last decade channeled billions to Colombian security forces which together with their paramilitary allies are responsible for killing thousands of civilians.
Meanwhile, Quiroga has been sentenced to nearly three years imprisonment for defrauding a bank. The Bolivian ex-president is also notorious for his role as Vice-President during the Cochabamba Water War in 2000 which saw the state brutally repress protests following its decision to cede ownership of the public water company to Bechtel.
Victims of the Guarimbas Reject Opposition Demonstration and Ex-Presidents Visit
On Thursday, the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup issued a public statement condemning the opposition rally convened for Saturday and denouncing the participation of Pastrana and Quiroga.
The organization represents Venezuelans who lost family members during 2014’s violent opposition barricades, which left 43 people dead, over half of whom government supporters and security personnel.
“We express our most energetic rejection of the recent calls made publicly by Leopoldo Lopez and his allied political parities, with the purpose of launching street actions aimed at reigniting violence and destabilization in Venezuela.”
The Committee also voiced strong criticisms of the visit by the ex-presidents of Colombia and Bolivia.
“Know Mr. Pastrana and Mr. Quiroga that you are not welcome in our land and you meet with total rejection by the immense majority of our people who want to live and develop their country in peace and are fully conscious of your political manipulation of the issue of human rights,” reads a statement from the committee.
This past November, the Committee presented its case against Lopez and other protagonists of the rightwing violence before the UN Human Rights Commission in an effort to combat the “distortion” at the center of the hegemonic media’s narrative of these jailed opposition leaders as “political prisoners”.