[News] Venezuela - You Don’t Need to be a Semiotics Expert to Decode Leopoldo Lopez’s Latest Post
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Fri Nov 13 12:45:41 EST 2015
You Don’t Need to be a Semiotics Expert to Decode Leopoldo Lopez’s
By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas , November 12th 2015
During the high profile trial of jailed rightwing politician Leopoldo
Lopez for the incitement of public violence, the constant barrage of
ridicule directed against Venezuela’s state institutions in the mass
media was almost impossible to ignore.
Hiding behind a veneer of neutrality, global news outlets intimated
through both omission and the power of suggestion that the trial was
merely a circus show, which responded to neither logic or ethics, nor
legal norms, but rather to the political whims of the Chavista
administration under the caudillo-like control of President Nicolas Maduro.
In international reports, the proof against Lopez- a series of public
Tweets and Facebook posts in which he is charged with having promoted
public violence- was presented as absurd; purely circumstantial,
coincidental and even a matter of total subjectivity.
These posts allegedly sent “subliminal” messages to his supporters, they
mocked. How could this possibly be a reliable way to convict a man? How
can “subliminal” messages even be proven in a court of law when they are
a matter of the subconscious interpretation of another human being? It’s
a farce, a laughing matter even, they said, if it were not for the fact
that the life of an “innocent” Harvard educated lawyer hung tentatively
in the balance.
The reality is quite different, however, and as always context is
Beyond the conjectures of the international media, the entire population
of Venezuela saw how in 2014 Lopez, in the midst of the targeted street
persecution and violence which he encouraged, called on his followers
and supporters to refuse to recognise state authorities, in a situation
when civil rights were guaranteed, and to implement their “popular will”
(ironically the name of his political party) by force.
They saw how Lopez co-opted the language of emancipatory popular
politics to carry out a rightwing populist attempt to physically force
the retreat of politics itself through oppressive means. They saw how he
said on national television that it would only come to an end once the
government was removed from power. There was nothing subliminal about
his intentions; this is terrorism by any other name.
It is for this reason that Lopez’s conviction is not a source of
national public outcry in Venezuela, as it is elsewhere, and also why
there has been nothing resembling a mass protests in response to his 13
year jail sentence.
Yet if there were some kind of warped dialectic between Lopez’s public
statements and action in the street, then the jailed politician’s latest
Facebook update is certainly cause for alarm, especially to anyone
familiar with the machinations of the Venezuelan political opposition to
which Lopez is openly affiliated.
Now, just as last year, Lopez is continuing to call on his followers to
depose the current democratically-elected government, oscillating
between demands to do it constitutionally, or failing that, by force.
On Monday November 10th, Lopez published a hand written four page note
on his Facebook page from prison (that’s right, in the gulags of
Venezuela, high-profile prisoners get access to Facebook and Twitter) on
the up and coming parliamentary elections of December 6th, when
Venezuelans will choose their legislative representatives in the
The message is revealing both in terms of opposition strategy and the
backdrop to these elections; which are perhaps the most difficult
electoral contest that Chavismo has had to face since the death of Hugo
Chavez in March 2013.
For Chavismo, maintaining a majority in the National Assembly is
absolutely vital. Without this majority, it will be impossible to pass
any progressive laws to effect the changes that are in many cases being
demanded by the population, or to take the necessary steps to deal with
the current economic crisis that is strangulating the country. For the
opposition, a majority win is a critical opening to launch an onslaught
against the Bolivarian process. In this sense, 6D is not just a routine
matter of filling the legislative body with legislators of one
particular stripe or another.
Lopez is acutely aware of this scenario and he begins his publication
with “The Majority: To what end?”.
“Today, we Venezuelans are sure that a dictatorship governs Venezuela,
that is what we are up against. Our people know that winning the
National Assembly is a fundamental objective to conquering democracy,”
“Today, the people that want change know that they are the majority, but
we have to prove that majority at the ballot on December 6th, it’s
necessary to go out and vote massively. And then, more importantly, to
defend those votes, peacefully, with courage, firmness and organisation.
We will not hesitate to defend the popular will,” reads the statement.
The development of this contradictory dual narrative of labelling the
country a dictatorship whilst urging the population to vote en masse
undoubtedly has practical implications for the opposition, which has
little interest in making its arguments stand to logical reason.
Through this discourse the opposition (which incidentally, has a number
of mayors, governors and legislators elected through the same system as
Chavista politicians) can simultaneously claim victory if they gain a
majority in the elections, whilst crying fraud in the event of their
It is a time-tested method used by the opposition, which is still
hedging its bets on a win less than a month away from the elections.
This is revealing in itself.
Despite fifteen years of government, the death of the Bolivarian
revolution’s main political reference point, an economic crisis and
siege, as well as popular disenchantment with corruption and
inefficiency, an opposition win is by no means assured. The barrio or
shantytowns where the popular sectors reside are still in many ways no
go areas for an opposition which is still emblematic of a privileged,
colonial White elite. The natural punishment vote for Chavismo, for
sure, but unpopular nonetheless.
So what does hedging your bets look like when translated to a political
According to Lopez, a majority win at the National Assembly would mean
“the weakening of the dictatorship” and the “new National Assembly”
would have the “historical responsibility of bringing forth change…
liberating Venezuela by changing the model”.
“With the same united spirit, our brethren at the (Roundtable of
Democratic) Unity have also agreed to have a profound discussion on what
mechanism to activate in order to achieve this political change, whether
that be (constitutional) amendment, resignation (of the president), a
recall or constitutional (referendum)… for the beginning of 2016,”
states Lopez clearly.
The prospective of a recall referendum has been on everyone’s lips since
current President Nicolas Maduro won the presidential elections in 2013
by a narrow margin of 1.5%. Yet it is only Lopez who has come out now
and identified it so brazenly as an objective of the opposition.
Should the opposition fail to gain a majority, however, then their
“activists” can take to the streets against the government, legitimised
by the fact that they are defending “the popular will” that will have
been violated by the same “corrupt institutions” from which they would
have gladly accepted a victory.
And if this doesn’t work; then who knows. But the opposition is impatient.
“We cannot wait years, we cannot wait for the presidential elections of
2019,” states Lopez.
It’s a sentence that is only ambiguous if it is separated from the
historical trajectory of anti-Chavismo, if it is isolated within the
ahistorical world and Westernised viewpoint of the international media.
Where the methods used by the opposition less than fifteen years ago,
including a military and US backed coup, economic sabotage, an oil
lockout, violent street campaigns and a recall referendum, bear no
reference to Lopez’s current demands.
To the rest of us: can there be any doubt that a constitutional “coup,”
similar to that enacted in Paraguay in 2012 against leftist Fernando
Lugo, is at the forefront of the opposition’s mind? Can there be any
doubt that Lopez supporters, in response to this message, would
“hesitate” to take to the streets again? Is it really just a matter of
speculation when “defending the popular will” has already been
established as a narrative to justify the murder of 43 people and the
months long siege of communities across Venezuela?
I don’t think you need to be a semiotics expert to answer this question.
This is what is at stake when Venezuelans head to the polls en masse
on December 6th. There is everything to play for: the possibility of
politics, no matter how difficult, or its forced retreat. It’s not a
matter of interpretation; Lopez’s posts say it clearly.
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