Venezuelan security forces arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on Tuesday on charges of fomenting unrest that has killed at least four people, bringing tens of thousands of his angry supporters onto the streets of Caracas. Crowds of white-clad protesters tried to block the vehicle carrying the 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist after he made a defiant speech, said an emotional farewell to his family, and gave himself up to soldiers. Opposition leaders hope Lopez’s arrest will galvanize street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro, though there is no immediate sign the protests will topple the socialist leader.
“I am handing myself over to an unfair justice system,” the protest leader told supporters, standing on a platform next to a statue of Cuban poet and independence hero Jose Marti.
“May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up.”
The crowd lifted his wife up to give him a final embrace and hang a crucifix around his neck. Minutes later, he surrendered to military officers, pumping his fist and then stepping into the military vehicle with a Venezuelan flag in one hand and a white flower in the other.
A very brave man.
In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines, ‘Chavistas’ have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor. Many Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare programs should the socialist lose power.
A few days or weeks more may prove me wrong (I hope so), but it’s hard to see Maduro being toppled just yet. As the case of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe reminds us, economic ruin does not always finish off the regimes that brought it about