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Making sense of Leopoldo Lopez's arrest in Venezuela

There's confusion. Loads of it. On the one hand, everyone feels energised by Leopoldo Lopez's heroics yesterday, on the other a question hangs in the air: now what? Dawn breaks in Venezuela with a resolved opposition movement with its leader in jail, unable to organize, communicate and execute whatever strategy going forward. Or is it? Let's take stock of what happened yesterday. Hundreds of thousands dressed in white took to the streets across Venezuela yesterday, answering the call made by Lopez. While most of the media focused on Lopez's arrest in Caracas, the Maduro regime countered forcing public employees to attend a rally in Caracas, where more populist goodies were promised. But the fact is that Maracaibo, Valencia, Barquisimeto, Merida, San Cristobal, Puerto Ordaz and other cities also saw spontaneous rallies of thousands of opposition supporters, who had heed Lopez's call from clandestinity. It was a singular show of strength. It was the most powerful message that an opposition politician has been able to send since 1998, a message that shook chavismo's very core: despite the communicational hegemony, censorship, intimidation and assassinations by armed thugs, brutal repression by government forces, goodies on offer, etc., the Venezuelan people are fed up, to a point that have taken to the streets, day in and day out, to force chavismo out. Lopez is but the face of a new opposition, one that will not just sit idle, waiting for some miracle to happen. Lopez is not in a position of weakness here, he made his move, he showed his capacity to rally the troops and political muscle. Now the ball is in chavismo's court, and it remains to be seen whether it has the intelligence and ability to manoeuvre out of it and keep power. 

Lopez finds himself in the comfortable position of being able to dictate terms from where he is. His every waking breadth is being monitored and followed with huge attention. One tweet from him can wreak havoc nationwide. Chavismo thought that arresting him on trumped charges would bring protests to an end. Instead they made him a martyr. They boosted his political standing to stratosphere, while realising that even if the guy has no office he still packs a massive punch. It's a nice payback for what was done to Hugo Chavez once upon a time. This is Lopez's por ahora moment. Maduro gave yesterday the best example of how shaken chavismo's core is, with a rambling speech that showed fear and confusion. Maduro, and his Cuban handlers, just didn't see this one coming. And the fact that the most powerful chavista (Diosdado Cabello) was there, in person, to guarantee Lopez's safety shows how seriously the regime is taking him.

In the meanwhile, the notion that Venezuela is not a democracy is already cemented. The world's media, apart from a couple of disgraceful jobs from BBC and AP mediocre hacks, reported accurately on the symbolic day and protests. Human rights NGOs produced scathing criticism regarding violation to due process in Lopez's arrest. Ditto governments and serious not-funded-by-chavismo multilaterals. Even largely silent Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was sort of forced to voice an opinion on the matter. All of these happened in a few hours, and that's no small feat. As to what now: it's chavismo's move.