As Venezuela unwinds, Leopoldo López, the opposition’s most prominent leader, sits under house arrest and contemplates what might still be possible, Wil S. Hylton writes for The New York Times Magazine.
Former president Hugo Chávez “possessed an autocratic impulse that was jarring from the start. Over the course of 14 years in office, he dismantled the country’s democratic institutions one by one,” he writes:
There’s an interesting debate among political theorists about what to call a leader who destroys a democracy with democratic support. It’s possible to think of Chávez as a totalitarian or a tyrant for suppressing his opponents while rejecting the term “dictator” to describe a popular president. Chávez made no secret of his contempt for the country’s extant political system; he couldn’t even get through his first inauguration without ad-libbing, in the middle of the swearing-in ceremony, a promise to rewrite the Constitution — which he promptly did, consolidating power over the Legislature and the courts.
López is “flexible in his thinking about transition. Through most of our conversations, he strongly opposed the idea of military action, but when we spoke late the other night, he said he was beginning to think differently. An unwelcome mechanism can bring welcome change,”Hylton adds:
“In 1958, there was a military coup that began the transition to democracy,” he said. “And in other Latin American countries, there have been coups that called elections. So I don’t want to rule anything out, because the electoral window has been closed. We need to go forward on many different levels. One is street demonstrations; a second is coordination with the international community. But this is how I’m thinking now: We need to increase all forms of pressure. Anything, anything that needs to happen to produce a free and fair election.”
But, Hylton notes…..
Apart from the obvious fact that removing a dictator is no guarantee of democracy, there aren’t many people in Venezuela who consider a coup likely. A few weeks ago, I met up with the leader installed by the last military coup, Pedro Carmona, who told me the military has been purged of dissent, with senior officers monitored for ideological purity by the Cuban intelligence service. “The G2 has a facility in Caracas, spying on the Venezuelan military,” he said. “So on the military side, the best I could hope would be for them not to repress the people.”
Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori received the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2015 Democracy Award on behalf of Venezuela’s political prisoners.