martes, 19 de enero de 2016

The cowardice of Diosdado Cabello

It was the morning of Sunday, February 16th. Two days before my appearance before the unjust justice.  Both my home and my parent’s home were raided that day. Lilian, my wife, and my two children were at latter address at that time. That day Diosdado Cabello came to my family with a plan as cowardly as the person that concocted it: Nicolás Maduro. Then plan was none other than to take advantage of the fears my family had for the situation I was in, in order to manipulate them and convince that it was best that I left the country.

It all started with the arrival of 20 men dressed in black, with hoods, assault weapons and an arrest warrant for homicide and terrorism. After searching the property and intimidating my family, they stated that the President of the National Assembly at that time, Diosdado Cabello, was on his way and wanted to speak to them.

Upon arrival, the first thing he said was that it was best for everyone’s interest if I left the country. More so, he said that if I agreed to this he would “kindly” assist me with all the requisite arrangements. What Cabello did not know, was that earlier that day I had made my family aware of my decision through the only person I meet with during my time clandestinely: Carlos Vecchio. 

My family, in the midst of substantial tension, already was fearful that something might happen to me. Hence they asked Carlos to convince me to at least consider the option of leaving the country. I received the message, and I must confess that as son, father and husband, I understood it. Because it is not easy to see a loved one in a dangerous situation, much less knowing what the members of corrupt elite are able to do. Nonetheless, I asked Carlos to inform them my firm decision: I would face the dictatorship and I would voluntarily appear before an unjust justice. Furthermore, I was to do that Tuesday, February 18th. It was both timely and key that this message had gotten to my family before Diosdado’s arrival, because they were able to make it very clear that I had no intention of leaving Venezuela.

Having been turned away in his initial overture, Cabello proposed an alternative. He suggested that I applied for political asylum and locked myself away in some embassy. Once again he made it clear that he was willing to “help” with the arrangements. Once again, the answer was the same: No.

Both my parents and Lilian have told me that the “meeting” was cordial, at least as cordial as intimidation tactics can be. They even told me that at Lilian’s insistence that I was being unjustly criminalized, Cabello confessed that I was innocent and that this was nothing more than a political decision. He said that they were taken aback by our call for non-violent protests, especially after the municipal election where our party, Voluntad Popular, had come ahead as the party within the Unidad with the most amount of mayors, the vast majority of which were localities where previously PSUV had always (including the municipality of Maturin, capital of the Monagas state, second most important oil producing state and casually the home state of Cabello, where he has been elected as an assemblyman). That first meeting ended without any agreement, simply because there nothing to agree on.

That same day, I clandestinely recorded a video to ask the people of Caracas to please join me on Tuesday, February 18th in my appearance before the unjust justice. The government’s response was immediate. That same night, during a mandated national address, Nicolás Maduro attacked me once again, calling me a terrorist and a murderer and reiterating that security forces were deployed and actively pursuing me.  During that address he also insinuated, for the first time, the thesis that some groups were plotting to assassinate me.

In the wee hours of Tuesday, February 18th, Maduro and Cabello, decided to increase the level of pressure on my family. Cabello reached out to Lilian once again and asked for another “meeting”. Once again he went to my family’s home with a new proposition, this time the most cowardly of all. He said he possessed information that proved that I would be assassinated if I made a public appearance: “the fascist right wants to kill him, and the colectivos too and the latter are very hard to control”. His proposal was that I should appear in a “controlled” environment, without anyone, perhaps a few witnesses. He warned that if I made my appearance in a public demonstration I would be assassinated: “the people in the right will take advantage of Leopoldo’s public address to carry out an assassination attempt. My recommendation is that he surrenders in private”.

This line of reasoning, brought forward by Diosdado Cabello had a profound impact in my family. Starting at 3 a.m., Lilian asked me time and time again that I didn’t make a public appearance, she asked me to think of our children. My parent’s also made the same plead. The threat had escalated to the highest level possible, death. My mother said to me: “Leo, think of Lilian. Think of Manuela and Leopoldo, your children. Think of what it means to surrender to an unjust justice and that we don’t know how long this will go on”. Lilian and my family insisted up to the last minute, however, even though I couldn’t stop thinking of them for even a second, I didn’t back down from my previous decision. The call for the demonstration had already been made and I was committed to the Venezuelan people. I had already made a choice that to this date I maintain it was the right one: I would never leave Venezuela and I would face the dictatorship in each and every terrain, especially the moral one. Living clandestinely or going into exile were not feasible options as they would imply that I would be a prisoner of my soul.

That Tuesday, at 4 in the morning, I left for Caracas. At 11 in the morning I appeared before an unjust justice and after that I was transported to La Carlota, were a few minutes later Diosdado Cabello arrived*.

We arrived to National Guard’s hangar; there you could see the people protesting at the gates of the airport. The last time I had spoken to Cabello was in the year 2007 when he was the Governor of Miranda and I was the mayor of Chacao. Around that time I had written a citizen’s security plan called “Plan 180”, which posed an integral approach to dealing with crime and violence in Venezuela. I started working on that plan after the death of Carlos Mendoza, a colleague that was assassinated in an attempt on our life. He died in my arms. I was unable to quell the pain of his family, no words are enough in situations like that, but I committed to develop a proposal that would significantly address the issue of violence in our country, and perhaps prevent other families of having to go through the same terrible ordeal. I sent that plan to Cabello, and to all national and regional authorities, because the security of all Venezuelans demanded it so, and since that time I had not spoken to him again.

Upon seeing him I immediately asked about this supposed assassination plan. He told me that this was true, that they had several proofs and recordings. To this date these recordings have not been made public, likely because they do not exist. Then he told me: “So, what should we do?” I answered: “What do you mean ‘what should we do’? You are the ones holding me under custody”. He then retorted by saying: “The only way out is through a helicopter. The plan is that three helicopters will leave the airport, we will be in one of them heading for Fuerte Tiuna, from them we will go to the courthouse”. I agreed to this, with the sole condition that my family and my lawyer were allowed in the same helicopter, because it came to mind the moment when Dictator Pérez Jiménez called Jóvito Villalba to “talk” after the fraudulent election of 1952, which in turned transformed into his forced exile. I feared that I could be taken out of Venezuela against my will as per Cabello’s suggestion.

Despite the dire situation, I must admit that the helicopter ride gave me peace for a few seconds, as it allowed me to see beautiful Caracas from up above. It filled me with strength and hope to see the sea of people overflowing the streets. The last time I had flown in a helicopter was with Iván Simonovis, now also a political prisoner, when he was Secretary of Metropolitan Security and I was Mayor of Chacao.

We arrived to Fuerte Tiuna and from there we made our way to the courthouse in an SUV driven by Diosdado Cabello himself. He had turned into the executor of my detention. We got a chance to speak regarding the situation of the country. I told him that the detention of those young Venezuelans in Táchira and Nueva Esparta was profoundly unjust, and that they should be released because they were innocent. He confessed significant concern with the economic situation and he insinuated harsh criticism to those he called “the geniuses running the economy, that always have an answer for everything, but the situation is critical”.

After we arrived at the courthouse we had to wait in the vehicle because the court wasn’t ready, neither was the requisite documentation from the police and the prosecutor’s office. I was able to witness how Cabello called directly the president of the Supreme Court and the General Prosecutor to ask them, or more so demanding explanations, as to why my case file wasn’t ready. I asked him what was going on and he told me: “No one expected you would actually show up, and nothing is ready” and I thought to myself: “Of course, you thought I was going to leave the country”. We went up to the courtroom and he mentioned: “This is the first time I set foot in this building”, and once again I thought: “But this is not the first time you call a judge, a prosecutor or a supreme judge to see ‘how things are going’”.

That night, after a first encounter with the 16 judge of control, it was ordered that I be held captive in Ramo Verde, where I was transported in a caravan of motorcycles and SUVs. In the SUV where I was being held, there were also General Álvarez Dalls, director DIM, and General Noguera, commander of the National Guard. It was being driven of course by the multifaceted Diosdado Cabello, who that day served as policeman, prosecutor, judge, custodian and even chauffeur.

Listen to the narration made by Leopoldo of these facts the final day of his trial in this never heard before audio:


*The journey that Leopoldo endured to arrive to Chacaíto, the place where thousands of protestors waited for him in his first public appearance, was described in the posting called “The day I arrived to RamoVerde”.

lunes, 21 de diciembre de 2015

Venezuela after the 6th of December

That day, after two weeks demanding my right to vote, I was able to do so in the afternoon. Despite the isolation I have been subjected to I was able to find out about the results that same night in the best way possible. I was in my cell when suddenly I heard the sound of hundreds of people that live in the vicinity of Ramo Verde yelling “yes we can, yes we can¨, and was specially surprised when in the heat of the celebration I heard cries of “Leopoldo you are our friend, the people are with you”. Those who yelled knew that I would listen and that it would be the only way for me to find out about the results. The first thing that came to mind were the powerful first few words of our national anthem “Glory to the brave people!” and I could not contain the emotion. This was very similar to the way I felt the day I received word that the date of the parliamentary elections had been sent after my brother, Daniel Ceballos, over 100 young protesters, including other political prisoners, and myself carried out a hunger strike for almost 30 days in order to demand for it.  That is why, as best as I could whilst submerged in darkness, I climbed up to the window in my cell to try to get a glimpse of the people celebrating and send a message their way. At first, a heavy fog did not allow me to make much of the scene, but little by little it dissipated and I was able to see with my own eyes the celebration.

That night I laid down to sleep, more committed than ever to the democratic struggle. Seeing and hearing the people shouting slogans a few meters away from a military prison, which has become one of the most significant symbols of the dictatorship, without any fear or regard for potential punishments, made me think that everything has been worthwhile. Any sacrifice for the freedom of our people is worthwhile. I thought of the suffering that Venezuelans have had to endure as a consequence of an imported and flawed model, that is nothing like us and that its imposition has been attempted through the use of force. I reflected a lot upon the Venezuelans that in the past trusted this project and have been disappointed. They are now betting on change. It is an obligation of all members of the Unidad that they feel and understand that this victory is theirs, for them and by them.

The next day, though my lawyer, I was able to find out about all the details and the magnitude of the people’s victory. Before the election we had said that in this opportunity a plebiscite would occur, but not one between members of the opposition and government backers.  A plebiscite between the people acting in unity and a corrupt, inefficient and antidemocratic elite led by Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, and boy was this so. That Sunday, we, the Venezuelans, wrote a new glorious chapter in our history by subduing a dictatorship through our votes.

The people, aware of all its strength, expressed itself in favor of change in an overwhelming fashion, and not only voted but that defended that vote until the very end. The Venezuelan people put a hand to the chest and stopped the corrupt elite. An elite that has attempted to make us believe that a different Venezuela is not possible but we proved that “yes we can”.

Before the day of the election I was able to send a letter stating that winning the National Assembly was an objective of paramount importance on the road to conquer democracy and to build the Best Venezuela, but that Venezuelans know that this is just the first step. A step, that undoubtedly leads to a greater responsibility for all of us, members of the Unidad, to meet the expectations and hopes of our people. 


Having won the election represents the conquest of a fundamental institution for the democratic struggle and represents a weakening of the dictatorship. However, it is also clear that for Venezuela to change once and for all, we must also rescue all other institutions. An unconstitutionally constituted Supreme Court impedes true justice in Venezuela, and through schemes and machinations the dictatorship wants to incorporate for unconstitutional justices before the new National Assembly is convened. The Defensor del Pueblo only defends the dictatorship. The Attorney General only protects the powerful and the victims that dare to denounce the abuses are the ones that stand to be accused and jailed. The Comptroller General only works during electoral cycles, and its only purpose is to ban from running those that think different, whilst it watches in complicity as the biggest pillage in the history of our nation takes place. The Electoral Council once again played a poor role in these elections, allowing for the most abusive campaign in history and extending the voting in an illegal fashion as to habilitate a last ditch desperate attempt of the dictatorship to impede the victory of the people.

With the popular victory of the past Sunday, the dictatorship is weakened, yes, but it still has a stronghold over the other powers of the State and Maduro has already announced that the dictatorship will use them to disavow and ignore the will expressed by the people. I’m certain that the assemblymen of the Unidad will, with humility and serenity, stand their ground and defend the will of the people. But having seen the reaction of Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello in the face of a democratic triumph it is clear that we can’t stop even for an instant in the pursuit of the true change that is being demand by our people. The dictatorship is weakened, yes, but we are still living under it and our people voted to change a system that oppresses, humiliates and makes it impossible to find solution to the most important challenges. The dictatorship is weakened and it is our duty to not allow it to regroup. If Maduro and other heads of the powers sequestered by the corrupt and antidemocratic elite attempt to sabotage change, then they will have to be replaced.

I am convinced that the new National Assembly not only has the duty to produce democratic legislation but also has the historic role of the promoting the political change sought after by our people. We are obliged to pursue at the same time, the political change, the jumpstarting of the economy and a new social agenda for all Venezuela. There is no doubt that we will not able to find solutions to the dire situation we are living in until we have achieved political change and displaced the corrupt elite that now usurps power, it is a reality and we must be responsible by telling the truth to our people. It is not possible to reactivate national production and hence overcome scarcity and inflation, two great difficulties faced by people, whilst a regime that hides its failures behind a fictitious “economic war” remains in power. It is not possible to address the violence pandemic whilst a dictatorship that not only is complicit with criminal activity, but that has sequestered the judicial branch, and hence the hope of justice, remains in power.

Since 2014 we have stated that we have to escape this disaster through constitutional means as soon as possible. In the face of the immense injustices suffered by the Venezuelan people, there is no room for political calculations or personal conveniences. In the face of injustice, abuse and human rights violations, we must react. Injustices must be combated. Injustices must be faced decisively and without doubt. I’ve decided to confront this dictatorship in all terrains, in the street protesting legitimately, in the electoral ground and in the moral ground, and I’m convinced that it is worthwhile.

It is about reacting in the face of an emergency, the situation of the country, the destruction of the country, the suffering of our people it all calls for it. Venezuela is falling to pieces right before our eyes. How can we tell Venezuelans that live in fear to lose their lives that we must change until 2019 to change this system?. What can we say to all those Venezuelans that must stand in lengthy lines day in and day out while their economic prospects go sour?

As we have said in the past, there are constitutional mechanisms available. As we agreed in July 2015, I ratify my commitment with my partners in the Unidad to carry out a profound discussion of which mechanism should be activated to achieve political change: Recall referendum, a constitutional amendment or reform, resignation or a constitutional assembly. 

The dictatorship is weakened, yes, but we are still living under it. The dictatorship is wakened and it is the duty of the democrats to not give it an opportunity to regroup. United we will achieve it. Strength and faith!

martes, 24 de noviembre de 2015

The day I arrived at Ramo Verde

I stood before an unjust justice.

I was jailed in the Ramo Verde prison on February 18th at half past 11 pm. That day I had woken up at 3 am. At 4 am I left clandestinity, I hid in the trunk of a car and it took me 45 minutes to arrive to Caracas. During those 45 minutes, that truthfully felt like several hours, I couldn’t stop thinking of the victims of kidnappings that are forcefully subjected and transported in that same way. I was sensitized with the subject because a few days prior the brother of a good friend had been kidnapped and murdered. I thought of my family, my children and above all, I though of where I would end up on this February 18th.

I had planned to make my formal presentation at 11 am, right in the middle of a public demonstration organized precisely for that purpose. I had been living in clandestinity for six days and at the time Nicolás Maduro had announced the roll out of all public law enforcement in the pursuit of “the terrorist Leopoldo López”. They searched for me eagerly, they raided my home, my parents home, the headquarters of Voluntad Popular and, with assault rifles at hand, they had detained several of my colleagues hard at work in that location.  

I arrived at the demonstration riding a motorcycle. Those were tense minutes. I had to cross a National Guard check, and was able to do so because I did not remove the full-face helmet. When I arrived to the location of the crowd I knew they would not be able to detain me, it was then that I removed the helmet. We walked towards Brión square. There was no stage or sound system. There was just people, many people, many more people that I would have ever imagined. They were all dressed in white, as a sign of peacefulness, as we had asked when we called for the demonstration (through a video during my time in clandestinity).  We had called the demonstration through social media, almost in an artisanal fashion. I will never forget the immense solidarity and affection demonstrated towards be by the people of Caracas, a people for which, without doubting it for a second, I would repeat the same sacrifice a thousand times over.

Once I arrived to the very end of the demonstration I decided  to climb up the José Martí statue that, as a funny reminder, had been remodeled during my time as Mayor of Chacao. From there I said some brief words with the help of a megaphone. I explained that I subjected myself to the authorities because I had not committed any crimes and because for me it was not an option to leave the country or play hide and seek as the government would have preferred. These were my words, I transcribe them because they are the best proof of my innocence and because firmly believe in them:

We are living through a dark moment in Venezuela: Criminals are rewarded by the government, and Venezuelans looking for a democratic, peaceful and constitutional change are put to jail.
Today, I hand myself to an unjust and corrupt justice system, that does not judge following the Constitution and the Venezuelan laws. But today, I also hand my deepest commitment to you, Venezuelan women and men: If my imprisonment leads to the awakening of our people; if it leads the majority of Venezuelans that want change to stand up decisively and build such peaceful and democratic change, then this infamous imprisonment, set directly and cowardly by Nicolás Maduro, will be well worth it.
But I do not want to take that step into temporary silence without making it clear the reason for this struggle. We struggle for our youth. We struggle for the students. We struggle for those who have faced repression. We struggle for our political prisoners.
This struggle, sisters and brothers, is for the entire Venezuelan people that today is suffering. Suffering in line, suffering shortages. It is for the unemployed youth, that see no future as a consequence of the wrong economic model, imported from other countries, that just does not blend with Venezuela’s “Bravo Pueblo”.
Together, sisters and brothers, we need to envision and build a clear way out to this disaster. Such way out, sisters and brothers, needs to be peaceful; it needs to be constitutional; but it also needs to be proactive and built by street-based activities. Venezuela does not have remaining free and independent media outlets for us to express ourselves. So if the media is silent, let the street do the talking! Let there be streets full of people talking about peaceful and democratic change!
Sisters and brothers, I ask of you that we continue our struggle; that we do not abandon the streets; that we take our constitutional right to protest and that we do it peacefully, without any violence whatsoever. What I ask of all of us, of all that are here present, of all the Venezuelans that want change, is for us to get acquainted, trained, organized and active in non-violent protest. The protest of the masses, of the wills, the hearts and the souls of those who want to change without hurting fellow Venezuelans.
I ask you not to lose faith. And I am sure, in the name of my daughter Manuela and my son Leopoldo -and as Andrés Eloy Blanco used to say, he who fathers a child fathers all children-, in the name of all children of Venezuela, I swear to you that we will be victorious and that very soon we will have a free and democratic Venezuela.

May god bless you!

I also wanted to make sure that the situation would not spiral out of control due to my decision: “I beg you, when I pass the line of national guards, please remain peaceful. I want no violence”.
I am innocent of all the crimes I am being accused of, and I assumed candidly the responsibility for having called for a protests. That was and still is my biggest strength.

To bid goodbye to my fellow Caraqueños, I sent them a wholehearted message that I have repeated always to Venezuelans in all corners of the country: “I ask you not to lose faith”. That is key to sustaining our resistance to this authoritarian government, the faith that all Venezuelans should have in ourselves, in our endless capacity to overcome obstacles and continue the path towards democracy, freedom and well-being.

Upon conclusion, in the company of Lilian, my parents and many other leaders and activists from different political organizations, I walked to the barricade where the National Guard was. There was the General Commander of the National Guard, General Noguera, joined by General (B) of the National Guard, Benavides. Both insisted that I should wear a helmet and a bullet-proof vest -maybe aiming at reinforcing the narrative, produced by the Government, that there would be an assault against my life, or to show me as a criminal-. Obviously, I rejected. They formally charged me and let me in one of the small tanks that laid in the area. There were thousands of people in the place. We requested for support and applied non-violence as our strategy. We spent three hours navigating through a sea of people until we could leave the place in peace and with our heads high.

We arrived at La Carlota. Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, arrived minutes later. I will discuss about this encounter later on. He ordered us to board three helicopters that moved us to Fuerte Tiuna. There was no other way out, since all gates of La Carlota were swarmed with the noble people of Caracas that manifested against my detention. From the helicopter I could see the immense amount of people that set out to protests that day: Thousands of caraqueños in the neighboring streets.

From Fuerte Tiuna we moved on a line of cars to the Palace of Justice. The vehicle I was in was driven by Diosdado Cabello. Upon arrival, we had to wait for some time because the documents related to my case were not ready. The could not be. Everything was forged and invented.

We waited and, two hours later, we had the audience where the Judge 16 of Control. She dictated a freedom privation measure in the military prison of Ramo Verde. The audience did not conclude and was set to continue in the next day.

I was also driven by a line of cars from the Palace of Justice to Ramo Verde. Now again, Diosdado drove the SUV, and we were accompanied by General Noguera and General Hernández Dalla. The line had 10 SUVs and 10 motorcycles. We arrived at 11pm. We were received, in proper formation, the officers and soldiers that custody the prison -about one hundred and twenty men in total-. They were presided by Colonel of the National Guard Humberto Calles. His salutation was: “Chávez lives, the fight continues”. This was a political salutation that displays the submission of the armed forces to a political partiality, blatantly violating the Constitution. This salutation is repeated by every garrison, in every formation and in every chance that a military officer addresses another. Nevertheless, given my experiences in prison during the last months, this is not shared by the majority of uniformed officials.

I was taken to the entrance, and from the to the annex. This was a removed building where there was a single “normal” cell, surrounded by punishment cells or “tigritos”, as they are called in the prison jargon. We climbed three stories, the hallway was dark, walls were burned and there was lots of dust in the floor. We arrived to my cell, they handed me a bed sheet, a soap bar, a tooth paste and a tooth brush. “See you tomorrow. In the morning you have an audience” they said instead of good night. The door closed, a heavy iron gate with bars and a plank as reinforcements and a thick steel bar lock which is the largest of its type that I have seen. The door closed, followed by the locks that gave way to the annex. The deep echo of such noise climbed through the stairway announcing, reminding me , that this is a prison. That is the most distinctive sound in this place, a sound seal that speaks: “You are an inmate”.

The presentation hearing should have occurred in the Caracas Palace of Justice. However it was the regime’s decision not to remove me from Ramo Verde and have the proceedings in a “mobile tribunal”, a bus that they had parked at the doorsteps of the prison (I presume to abide with the formality of being judged outside a military prison). The hearing lasted twelve hours and in the end, after listening to the absurd arguments of the prosecution, as was already decided by Maduro and his government, they left me behind bars.

During this long hearing, the prosecutors were not able to look me in the eyes. In the end, one of them, Franklin Nieves, approached me and told me: “I’m very sorry”. He offered me a chocolate and some mints. I received them and told myself that this man knows that he doing something wrong, but he is a prisoner of the system, the dictatorship, just as much as I am. The time of freedom will come, for him, for the men and women in the armed forces, and for all Venezuelans.

That was how I arrived to Ramo Verde, my first night. That first night in prison is perhaps the longest. It is a transition point, the end of a stage and the start of another. Those long first set of hours, lying in bed, staring at the roof I recalled every that had happened sinceFebruary 12th: the clandestinity, the raids, the persecution and the presentation before the unjust justice. I was then able to assimilate the events of that February 18th, that started in the trunk of a car, the people, the tribunals, a trip in a helicopter, the arrival to this place and the closing of the cel with that sound. Since that day, still February 18th, until September 23rd, seen months, I remained locked up in my cell, in isolation, with just one hour a day in the yard.