The Ongoing Torture of Leopoldo Lopez

“They are torturing me! Denuncia!!” the cry carries; piercing from the menacing prison perched nefariously on the hilltop above to float across the expanse.


How did it come to this? Venezuela’s First Son: descendant of Simon Bolivar; graduate of Harvard; husband to the beautiful Lilian, father of two; mayor of the elites; from a rich and mighty family. Bred and groomed, Leopoldo Lopez was destined to rule. And his enemies? Shrug. A ridiculous political project born of a dead man, an uneducated soldier from a lost state on the border of Colombia. Emerging from poverty, and with only the support of an aged bearded tyrant in Havana? That was not something which would last. Venezuelans are not Cubans, right? Sure he had charisma and charm of sorts and – more importantly – a seemingly bottomless well of cash. He personified an era, and his momentum was unstoppable.

But he is dead – a T-shirt King like El Che before him. Why did it all not simply fall away? Who are Leopoldo’s enemies now? An insipid bus driver; a Hezbollah operative; a bunch of jungle guerillas – seated sweating atop a chaotic narco-regime ruling over a country that has disintegrated… Can’t even really be called a country anymore – not in the classical sense. All semblance of what was has vanished into the jungles and the oceans for want of those who should care for it. 200 years – that’s what it took Venezuela to build towards what it was. An unequal oligarchy maybe; but orchestras and monumental architecture and festivals and traditions and a sense of pride: they were a people of great pride, once upon a time.

I still find it hard to understand how it is they are torturing Leopoldo – and the only people who seem to care are a small group of students protesting – and dying – on the potholed streets of formerly middle class Caracas (and Valencia, and Maracay, and Maracaibo, and Puerto Ordaz)?

The most dangerous thing that any of us can do is underestimate our adversaries (don’t believe me – ask Hillary Clinton). Venezuela’s feckless opposition is guilty of this. Their primary assumption, which girds their protest strategy, is that the torturers – the National Guard, the Political Police – are merely following orders. That they really, in their heart of hearts, want no part of the madness.

That is the Venezuelan opposition’s fundamental and abiding mistake.

Because what I have seen – am seeing on the streets of Caracas is not a security apparatus shy and timid, acting only under duress. They are instead behaving as evil men finally being permitted the violence they have craved for so long. Venezuelan detainees are being beaten with aluminum bats, tortured. Forced to eat human excrement. And why? Did you ever watch ‘Narcos’, or ‘Queen of the South’; have you ever seen news reports of drug-runners in Mexico sawing off people’s heads or cutting off their faces and stitching them to soccer balls? Why the viciousness? It’s simple. They are protecting their business. So too Venezuela’s Narco-Generals, locking down their drug empires from those who would take them away. They are enjoying the killing.

Venezuela’s opposition has always seen in the Chavistas a sort of misguided sense of “social justice” – poorly applied perhaps or taken too far. They’ve always seen the model as legitimate; it’s only the people with whom they have a problem. Leopoldo never understood what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn knew. What Natan Sharanksy could easily have told him. What I have seen in places like Kosovo and Rwanda and Congo: when hate is injected for so long, using so varied means, the end result is an orgy of violence and blood that is usually only satiated when the ground can absorb no more. And when it’s married to a denial of self; a glorification of the collective needs of “others” – it is extremely dangerous. It’s what Ayn Rand wrote about mostly. It’s what my 2nd novel “The Burning” is about, in part.

We should never underestimate those who have stated that they wish to destroy us – lest we inadvertently give them the chance, and they seize it. That is Venezuela’s revolution. Congratulations to all who participated; who made common cause with Hugo; who said that his might be the way. It’s your fault too – and you will not be quickly forgotten, or forgiven.

As for Leopoldo – would that he were free. I cannot imagine the sorrow of his family; for all fathers hope for better things for their sons. And Leopoldo – to him has been assigned the greatest hope of all. And I pray his sacrifice pays dividends, when the Venezuelan ground at last begins to reject the blood.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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