Saturday, April 18, 2009

In praise of Antonio Ledezma

I know, I know, praising Ledezma, some guy that seems like the embodiment of old politics, might not be popular among some readers. But Ledezma is a different political animal. And curiously like Chavez, a very underrated one.

Ledezma is a politician not endowed with much charisma, nor gifted for speechifying, nor even particularly intellectually deep. But he is a fighter, a gritty one, very conscious on where he stands and what needs to be done (though his dumb support to Alfaro Ucero in 1998 shows also that he can make major mistakes). He also comes across as awkward when he reaches out to people, though there is weird sincerity that comes with him, a little bit like saying "you know, I really do not like much to press your flesh but if it means so much for you, let's do it". Some people do respond to that, appreciating the earnestness of the guy.

In short, it is not easy for Ledezma to make politics although it is clear that it has always been his vocation. His grit was enough once to defeat Isturiz for Caracas downtown mayor. If he failed to be reelected in 2000 it was because the tide wave of Chavez was irresistible in Caracas, still smitten by Chavez (which has changed now as he decides to name the big boss there rather than risk yet another electoral defeat). But his defeat then was quite honorable and he showed a good democratic talent by presiding over an impeccable transition, something not seen ever since, and certainly not from the occasional chavista loser.

Burdened by his Alfaro Ucero support and losing Caracas in 2000, Ledezma had a hard time to make a come back, even though soon it was clear that he had been a much better mayor than the sitting infamous Bernal, a mayor way more interested in organizing red shirts in assault brigades than picking up the trash. Ledezma slow recovery started in 2002-2004. Contrary to other opposition politicians keen on showing up in front of the Globovison/RCTV cameras than in front of the marches they were calling from, Ledezma did march as much as he could, did get quite a dose of tear gas, and was even once beaten up enough to be sent to a hospital. His tiny party, ABP, a dissidence of AD once he was booted from it, never grew much but was always present, and included some colorful characters which kept it in the limelight through Venevision when it was still not sold out to Chavez.

Still he made a few more mistakes that did not endear him to other opposition politicians and slowed down his political recovery. But he kept forging ahead and his break came once Leopoldo Lopez was barred from running for Caracas Mayor office. Ledezma would have never won against juvenile and charismatic Lopez but he had built enough of a hard core following that he became the inevitable candidate for Caracas even though no one gave him a chance at first (although this blogger is on record at one of the first people to predict a possible victory of Ledezma, and certainly the first blogger to do so) (1).

Some times some people rise to the historic occasion they are given and Ledezma will be one of those poster politicians. Against all odds, including a reluctance from many within the opposition to support him, Ledezma run hard and won, convincingly if not by a wide margin (6%). Within hours of his victory announcement chavismo was hard at sabotaging his rule, something that they had already started when polls became looking up for Ledezma that past fall. The final straw against poor Ledezma came when the Nazional Assembly wrote fast a new and unconstitutional law that stripped him of almost any attribution to give them to an appointed apparatchik, which quickly was named as Jacqueline Farias, who fits amazingly well the portrait of what a XXI century gauleiter would be.

But Ledezma never lost his cool and today he gave a hard blow to chavismo, even taking a page from its earlier book. In a surprise move Ledezma went downtown Caracas to the CNE lair with a large group of his followers chanting. In spite of a strong display of Nazional Guards, they could not stop the entry of Ledezma and his reception by the only democratic CNE director. Ledezma did submit a referendum proposal and walked out acclaimed by his followers. If there were red shirts to be seen they were either far away or scared; or never received their marching orders.

A stunned chavismo could not find any other reply than a particularly fascist move: they had Ledezma followed by a group of Metro Police who harassed him along the way until Ledezma stopped to confront them (before they stopped him, I suppose?). For what? Roughing up Ledezma? Arresting him for doing a peaceful civic activity? To their great surprise, passersby, walking or on cars, stopped to defend Ledezma and soon the fascist detachment was in full retreat. Globovision even carries a video amateur of the moment.

Ledezma showed today how it is played, how to stand up to violence without resorting to violence yourself. And as such I am afraid he might have signed his death sentence. But right now chavismo has made him an opposition hero, and a hero that could cause them lots of trouble now that he is without much to do and can dedicate himself fully to fight chavismo.

1) Leopoldo Lopez is the only opposition politician who can dispute the contest at which opposition politician has breathed more tear gas since 2002. If anything else, Lopez and Ledezma share that willingness to lead their followers.

-The end-

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