Español Leopoldo López made a huge mistake when he turned himself in to Venezuelan authorities.
The Nicolás Maduro government accused the opposition leader of inciting violence and arson, among other felonies, in connection with the massive anti-government protests that took place on February 12, 2014.
López clearly had good intentions when he decided to hand himself over to authorities, but it was the wrong move. Instead of standing up to the abuses of the Chavista government and the corrupt judiciary, he gave them legitimacy.
One year later, López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, said that her husband turned himself in to strip Maduro of his mask.
But what mask is Tintori talking about? While I sympathize with her, it’s been clear for years — long before López’s imprisonment — that Venezuela is no longer a democracy. At this point, Maduro has no problem acting exactly like what he is: the president of a populist country.
Argentinean political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell coined the term “delegative democracy” to describe this kind of regime, as opposed to a representative democracy.
Delegative democracies, O’Donnell explains, derive their legitimacy from holding “free and fair” elections. However, they may lack other characteristics of a representative democracy, such as checks and balances, separation of powers, transparency, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law.
Venezuela today, in my opinion, cannot even be considered a delegative democracy. Free speech and due process are no longer simply under threat; the government is systematically violating human rights. The exception has become the rule.
By condemning López to almost 14 years in prison, the Venezuelan judiciary has solidified its place as the enforcers of Maduro’s Leviathan. When López turned himself in to this monster, he accepted the rules of the game, including waiving most of his basic rights.
The problem, therefore, was that he agreed to play the game to begin with.
Marco Coello, on the other hand, a student activist who is facing similar accusations, chose differently. He left the country before a judge could sentence him.
He didn’t wait around to hear the obvious. He escaped, because as he told CNN, in Venezuela, “there is no rule of law.”
Coello chose to continue the struggle for the liberation of political prisoners in Venezuela from the United States, where, as he said, he can express himself freely without landing in jail.
By refusing to acknowledge what is going on in Venezuela, we are refusing to recognize reality. It’s like saying free speech exists in Cuba. Can I shout out whatever I want in Cuba? Sure, but there will be consequences. Shout anti-Castro chants on a busy street in Havana and you will likely end up in jail.
The only way to win in Venezuela is to not play the game — to delegitimize Maduro’s government. If you play by his rules, the game is lost before it evens starts.
During an interview last February, Tintori said that the “world knows that Venezuela is an anti-democratic regime that violates human rights.”
And of that, there is no longer any doubt.