The guilty verdict on Leopoldo Lopez was expected though one would have thought that the maximum penalty would not have been decided. At any rate, guilty or free, the decision yesterday by the regime to tell judge Barreiros to condemn Lopez is not going to change much on the events to come. What it does convincingly is marking the moment where the regime stops gingerly crossing over the line between dictatorship and the totalitarian state. Gingerly no more.
Anything but freeing Lopez would not have improved the international regime standing now at junk bond level. Any condemnation, no matter how short the sentence, was equally unacceptable because a guilty verdict on thought crime is unacceptable in civilized world. Any guilty verdict is the clear statement of the regime that politicians will be dealt with through "crime" sentences to ban them from office. Who needs a gulag when a mere sentence disposes of your opponents for a few years in jail and for a life time once out?
So, why is the regime risking such an international condemnation, even though it does not seem to care about that a bit, as witnesses the Colombian border crisis?
Any gain perceived by the regime is strictly internal, safe the historical apologists from Red Ken to the ineffable Eva Golinger. I suppose that now they will be able to state without batting an eye that Lopez is guilty. And it will work to a point. All outside in Venezuela have a sense that justice in Venezuela is not great. But few can grasp how perverted the system is. Thus when a propagandist at Russia Today like Eva Golinger states that Lopez is guilty and has been condemned to 14 years of jail even if you have a doubt about the Venezuelan judicial system you will think that surely Lopez must have done something even if the sentence is overly harsh. A meager compensation when you consider that the Eva Golingers of the world are now quite discredited outside of the few dark caves where they seek refuge.
The "benefits" must be strictly internal, thus. Which may they be?
As an electoral ploy it can only mobilize better the hard core of chavismo. Yesterday a colectivo did attack a peaceful protest resulting with one death through cardiac failure. But the renewed radicalization of the nut wing of chavismo has the advantage at improving the options of the "bring in the vote" machine. Plain coercion as before has not worked in 2013, now chavismo needs actual threats and ferrying of timorate electors. At best this may help chavismo limit the hemorrhage of votes but it will not help them gain new electors. Attitudes like yesterday castigating civil protests or chanting the hopes that Lopez gets 400 year sentence do not make you new friends.
As a demobilizing tool for the opposition it has a limited use. At best it will scare some opposition leaders that do not want to go to jail, but the bulk knows quite well that they must keep the fight because the slammer is their destiny sooner or later. I think personally that condemning Lopez is in fact an incentive for the opposition voter to be more active. But the Cuban inspired regime applies old recipes in a new world of Twitter.
As a tool to create violence and thus get an excuse to suspend elections is far from certain. So far there is no evidence that the opposition will resort to violence. Lopez himself is calling for peace and electoral activism as the best and fastest way to get out of jail, and annul the unjust sentence.
Clearly I see no real advantage for the regime in condemning Lopez to 14 years. The international commendation has been quite vocal today, faster than usual. Peace still reigns in Venezuela and I do not see much spontaneous chavista celebration...
The only advantage that I can see is internal to chavismo. Someone had to make a show of force to prove to one faction that he is the boss. I, for one, have a hard time imagining that Cubans demanded this from Maduro, or at least with a much shorter sentence. Doing so must be the way to announce that we have entered totalitarianism, officially. The other suspect is Diosdado Cabello who, besides his resentment against anything educated smart and fancy, may have wanted to condemn Lopez to blame this on Maduro.
Whatever it is, those who participated in that show trial have put their names first in the list of those who will need to suffer through a Venezuelan Nuremberg when the day shall come. I do not want to be seen as a poseur by using the N word, but the crimes committed by the regime this recent weeks qualify the holders to a trial at The Hague. Period.
There is only one winner yesterday: Leopoldo Lopez. Write it down.