Leopoldo Lopez was released from jail. What does it mean for Venezuela?

As opposition leader Leopoldo López was released from prison, though he still under house arrest, what do you think about this development, is it a step towards de-escalation from the Maduro government, perhaps even towards some new political reality in Venezuela? Read few comments.

Leopoldo López. Credit: http://www.voluntadpopular.com/

Patricio  NaviaProfessor, Political Science, Universidad Diego Portales, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, New York University

I believe the Maduro government has been acting erratically for several months.  The decision to imprison López a couple of years ago was political, not based on legal grounds.  The decisions to change his prison sentence to house arrest has also been made for political considerations, not health reasons.  The way López has been treated shows the absence of the rule of law in Venezuela.

Though seeing López moved out of jailed is definitely good news, it does not really show a change of behavior on the part of the government. The Maduro administration is trying to do anything to stay in power despite its extremely low approval, its lack of democratic practices and the big economic crisis.  Releasing López is just a tactic to win time and confuse the opposition, not a change of course in an administration that has repeatedly shown disregard for democratic practices.

Iñaki Sagarzazu, Assistant Professor in Political Science, Texas Tech University

This release seems to be an attempt by the Maduro regime to de-mobilize the opposition. By ‘liberating’ Leopoldo Lopez (and for what it seems possibly other political prisoners during the weekend) the regime is trying to eliminate reasons for the protests. It is important to remember that next Sunday (16th) the opposition is holding a plebiscite on whether people support –or oppose- the call made by President Maduro to a Constituent Assembly. As such, I presume, the government is looking for ways to stop this plebiscite from happening. Since brute force hasn’t helped they might be trying alternatives.

Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American Studies, Pomona College

The release of Leopoldo López from prison and his house arrests opens the possibility for dialogue in Venezuela.

It highlights the constructive role that international mediators, in this case ex-Spanish president Rodríguez Zapatero, with the support of the Vatican and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) can play in creating the context for negotiations in Venezuela. Through quite diplomacy, they were able to achieve what the OAS president Luis Almagro, who opted for confrontation, was unable to accomplish.

On multiple occasions López had said he would not accept release unless all of his colleagues were freed. He has obviously conceded on this issue. Nonetheless, López new status will be a challenge for both opposition forces as well as the government. His release will put to the test their political will and their disposition to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

W. Alejandro SanchezInternational Security Analyst

It is important to stress that, indeed, Lopez has been released from prison but will remain under house arrest. According to reports he now has an electronic bracelet so his movements can be tracked. He was originally sentenced t o “13 years, 9 months and seven days” of prison. Does this mean that he will spend the next decade (assuming the regime holds) under house arrest? Or will the sentence be reduced? Will his current status bar him from running for some political office? This is an important issue to keep in mind.

The government has stated that the supreme court of justice (TSJ) released Lopez due to “health issues” – in other words the Maduro regime does not want to appear like it is giving in to the opposition’s demands. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that this is a move to somewhat appease the opposition, as another motive for the ongoing protests was precisely the release of Lopez and other “political prisoners.” It is also important to remember that the latest wave of protests has claimed the lives of almost 100 people, with the opposition (and most of the international community to be honest) accusing Venezuelan security forces of utilizing extreme violence to crack down on the opposition’s mobilizations. I would imagine that the government realizes that the loss of life is not deterring protesters but rather upsetting them more; hence it is in the government’s best interest to find ways to stop these mobilizations.

In spite of this important development, I do not believe that we will see a radical change in Venezuelan politics anytime soon. President Maduro aims to fulfill the rest of his presidential term and the issue of ongoing negotiations between both sides is just a method to gain time (hopefully until the economy begins to improve, though that won’t happen anytime soon from what I understand).

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