December 18, 2014
Protests take Capriles off centre stage
After years of being the fulcrum for the opposition, the political focus in Venezuela has swung convicingly away from Henrique Capriles in favour of Leopoldo López, who has proved to be a lightning rod for President Nicolás Maduro’s rhetoric in recent weeks. And since his public and stage-managed detention yesterday, López has also become an uncomfortable problem for the government to have on its hands.
López’s ascendancy has been marked by a clear dispute within the multi-faceted opposition camp about the best way to articulate its supporters’ dissatisfactions.
Capriles, the beaten presidential candidate following former president Hugo Chávez’s death in early 2013, has favoured an approach that includes challenging the government by criticizing perceived policy errors, focusing on governance in the areas that they control and claiming to be willing to talk to the government within a framework of political dialogue about systematic problems such as inflation and crime.
López, along with María Corina Machado, a sitting member of the National Assembly, have actively promoted mobilizations to provoke Maduro’s resignation as a solution to Venezuela’s troubles, while insisting that their protests are peaceful.
The schism within the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática), an umbrella organization for 29 political parties of various stripes that all oppose the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has taken place in public, with Capriles recently alluding to colleagues more eager “to stab him in the back than to give him a pat on the back,” while also rejecting the call for mass mobilizations.
In light of the fact that there are no elections in Venezuela scheduled until the end of 2015 and Maduro’s six-year term is not even a year old, López’s strategy promises short-term impact, and he has subsequently been at the centre of the political discourse in the last two weeks.
He has become the target of governmental accusations that he is leading a “fascist coup d’état” while his carefully-planned surrender to authorities and subsequent detention in connection with charges of incitement to violence, has glorified him among his supporters.
Capriles has had to change tack slightly, participating in last Wednesday’s protests and rejecting the accusations against López, while also seeking to maintain his political identity by insisting on the power of the opposition’s ideas and refusing to call for Maduro’s resignation.
As fickle and as unrepresentative as Twitter may be, the pictures on the platform can speak volumes. And so it is significant that the pictures circulating widely yesterday featured the mobilization that López had sought, and even more importantly, of his detention at the hands of the Bolivarian National Guard. The government itself underlined López’s importance by having Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, personally drive López to the tribunals so that Cabello could “guarantee his safety.”
Maduro now has a high-profile prisoner on his hands and a sizeable chunk of the population will not give credence to any of the charges against him, further revitalizing their opposition.
By radicalizing and energizing the political opposition to the Maduro administration, López has succeeded in displacing Capriles from centre stage, who now finds himself supporting a political foe and strategic ally that until very recently was the recipient of his equally thinly-veiled criticisms.@tbrockenshire