Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is due to be sentenced Thursday for his role in inciting violence in 2014 that lead to the deaths of 43 people.
Opposition supporters and victims of the violence, who are mostly government supporters, are waiting outside the Justice Palace. The opposition has reported one death, Horacio Blanco from a heart attack, and are blaming Chavistas for it. However, it seems the opposition anticipated the injuries before they happened, with opposition leader Freddy Guevara blaming Maduro at 11.30 local time before the incident “for any injuries.” He was quoted by Sumariam.com, which is live updating events outide the Justice Palace for the opposition.
teleSUR correspondent Rolando Segura, who is outside the palace, reported that rightwing groups clashed when Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori arrived for the sentencing, but opposition supporters are blaming Chavistas for some other injuries.
As his defense gives its closing arguments, social media has retweeted thousands of times a video that he and his wife posted Wednesday night.
The video argues that Lopez called for peaceful actions, and that it was security authorities that provoked the violence.
The video includes excerpts of what it alleges is Lopez’s speech delivered early on during the violence, which started in February 2014 and lasted for months. Over still images, auido recordings apparently reveal Lopez calling for “no violence.”
There is some footage showing Lopez speaking on a megaphone, saying that he called for “no violence,” however, the vast majority of the footage focuses on dramatic images of the shootings on Feb. 12 of Basil Da Costa, with no context and no explanation as to how or why they are linked to Lopez calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected president.
This is not the first time opposition sectors have tried to frame government supporters or authorities for violence. During the 2002 short lived coup against then president Hugo Chavez, various television stations showed footage of what they claimed were government supporters firing guns, which turned out not to be the case.
During the 2014 violence, lots of footage and photos were circulated on social networks. Some photos tried to portray security authorities as being repressive, but turned out to be taken from Egypt, Turkey, and other countries, while footage showed mostly men in red t-shirts being violent. While it is possible some government supporters may have become frustrated and violent, it is also known that violent opposition sectors would also don red t-shirts and pretend to be pro-government “Chavistas.” It was never made clear what Chavistas would gain from any violence.
Countless other videos have been released by social media users and authorities, however, showing Lopez calling for the removal of the democratically elected president. A video posted to Youtube on Nov. 3, 2013, for example, shows Lopez saying using the slogan “the exit,” which demanded the socialist government leave office.
“If … there is no democracy in Venezuela, our response is that we must advance in the exit of the government … We are absolutely convinced that Maduro must exit sooner rather than later,” he says in the video.
Supporters currently retweeting the video are calling for Lopez’s “freedom.” If Lopez is found guilty, it is likely to contribute to protests over the verdict.
In 2013, in the hours leading up to the presidential election results between Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles, Capriles declared there had been “fraud,” and called for protests. Maduro won the elections by a small margin and the next few days were marked by violent opposition protests and actions, which saw huge public property damage, including the burning of health centers and United Socialist Party offices, and which left 14 dead.
There is a police cordon around the Justice Palace, as people await the verdict. Lopez supporters are starting to mobilize in the city’s main square, Plaza Bolivar, in “support” of their “leader” and are also gathering outside the cordon at the palace.
On Twitter, opposition supporters are claiming that government supporters are a “provocation sent by Maduro.” and opposition leader Freddy Guevara has now written, “If there is an injury its the government’s fault.”
On 12 February 2014, a pro-opposition carpenter, Bassil DaCosta, and a Chavista social activist, Juan Montoya were killed during clashes in Caracas. DaCosta and Montoya are assumed to have been shot during a confrontation with intelligence service (SEBIN) officers and armed civilians near the Attorney General’s office following the violent end of an opposition march in the area. Five SEBIN officers have been charged in connection with the deaths. President Maduro said that the SEBIN service had orders to remain indoors that day, and the officers present on the scene were acting against orders. The director of SEBIN at the time, Gen. Manuel Gregorio Bernal, has been removed from his post.