It was certainly a day to remember. Despite the Government banning the opposition march and prohibiting marches, Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in in a demonstration which was simply massive. His handover was perfectly choreographed, leaving images that have a highly emotional content and guaranteeing that this day, whatever may happen was a victory for the Voluntad Popular leader.
I mean, there are very few things missing from a picture like this one:
Lopez being pushed into the National Guard tank, white flowers in one hand, flag in the other and screaming at his supporters. Really, can it get any more dramatic than this?
And this was after Lopez had given a fiery speech to his supporters hanging on the statue of Jose Marti in Plaza Brion of Chacaito at the end of which his wife was lifted up by the crowd to say goodbye to him right before he turned himself in. How can anyone not be moved by this image?:
And it was Lopez who, from the inside of the military vehicle, used a megaphone to ask people to move aside to let the vehicle through. Lopez was calma calm and at times it seemed as if the guardsman taking him looked more scared than he did.
And the show of support was nationwide, as students organized protests in all major cities, all of them with huge crowds, all ending at the Palaces of Justice of each State with the students handing in their demands.
I went to the march, leaving somewhat late, but was surprised when a couple of Kilometers away from the march, the street was still full of people walking towards Chacaito. And when I got to Chacaito it became difficult to get through because it was so crowded. Once in the intersection with the main Country Club Avenue, I was surprised by the sea of people coming down from that direction. It turns out it was the people from the West of Caracas, who, because the march was not allowed beyond Chacaito, had to come via Libertador Avenue to where Lopez turned himself in. From there, we turned South towards Las Mercedes, went under the Autopista and then climbed back on it, only to find that the students had not only blocked it, but occupied it all the way to the Cienpies Distributor. There were people everywhere, in front, below, above. And there was lots of police and guardsman, but they they were clearly given the order to do nothing, despite our fears that we could be gassed any minute.
This is an overall picture from above, two blocks away from where Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in:
Here are some of my pictures as I walked along:
And I don’t want you to think this was a Caracas phenomenon, this was Valencia (where seven students have been shot)
And at this time, 7:37 PM , students are still out in the streets blocking the way
I am still surprised the Government went ahead and jailed Lopez. To accuse him of being a terrorist, when there are pictures showing that it was the Government’s intelligence police who shot the students on Feb. 12th. is somewhat dumb. By jailing him, not only does he become a martyr, elevating his stature within the opposition, but also creating another political prisoner and another reason for the students to fight.
Maduro also loses credibility, when it was him that suggested Lopez was responsible for the deaths of the students, not the Prosecutor, raising doubts, once again, abut the separation of powers in Venezuela. To make matters even worse, it was the Head of the National Assembly, Diodado Cabello, who took Lopez to his arraignment. What is Cabello doing there? He does not belong to any of the braches of Government that should be involved. The Government later said it was to protect Lopez’ life from the “right wing”, a silly excuse, more so, given that Lopez is also labelled as “right wing”.
Because while all this was going one, Maduro was holding his own march, despite his ban on demonstrations, where he said Lopez was being taken directly to jail (Ughh?) by helicopter, showing the President does not even understand legal procedures. In his speech, Maduro rambled, attaching President Piñera of Chile and Santos of Colombia, for involving themselves in Venezuelan affairs.
But more importantly, you just don’t go jail an opposition leader like Lopez on trumped up charges, without raising suspicions that this is simply autocracy at work. Lopez now becomes a hot potato for Maduro: Keep him in jail he becomes a symbol, release him, you look weak (and somewhat dumb!). He will actually be charged with murder, a silly charge if there ever was one.
Lopez seems to have scored a victory sooner than he thought when he started going out to try to gather the protests under his wing. Even Capriles went to the demonstration, as all opposition politicians showed up at the demonstration to show their support.
For now, the students remain on their own, a random band of disorganized protesters that have kept the Government in check for ten days. They will not go easily away and now they have one more prisoner to defend.
Here is an overview of the protest via a video: