The death of liberty is often times a slow ordeal. The world’s new dictators have learned that the most effective way to suffocate freedom is not a bath of blood. It is not done these days with guns or knives but instead with rubber stamps, forms signed in triplicate, government agencies and lines that stretch into infinity. The best soldiers of the modern totalitarian regimes are not soviet storm troopers; instead they are faceless nameless bureaucrats. It’s easier – because there’s nothing to resist. One piece of paper becomes two; three bureaucrats become four. The lines stretch this week one block, next week two. The daily hardship of life drowns out the guttural appeal for freedom, prosperity and dignity – for a better country.
Yet sometimes a voice demands to be heard. Occasionally, people arise who will not lower their head. For them the death of liberty is swift. For Leopoldo Lopez it was immediate, it was violent and it was – yes – heroic.
I have often wondered, since the days that he surrendered his liberty to the thugs, ‘what was he thinking?’ The leader of a nascent resistance movement; former mayor and political party president; husband and father of two; he had a lot to lose. Would I have done the same? Would I have surrendered to illegitimate authorities on trumped up charges? Will his ultimate sacrifice find its reward in the fruits that he and his followers hope for?
I don’t know.
Despite my opinions – or those of the armchair warriors – it was not our decision. Upon surrendering his body to the ‘authorities’, he famously said “if my imprisonment awakens my people, it was worth it.” An act of courage in a dry desert of selfishness and greed; and it was over – or was it? A mayor became a prisoner. A father became a criminal. Instead of leading crowds, he now meekly shuffles his chain-linked ankles behind barked orders of his jailers.
What a tragic turn of events.
What is apparent in all this – what his act of courage laid bare – is that the river of freedom runs deep in Venezuelan society. After fifteen years of abuse, discrimination, violence, exclusion and hatred – after fifteen years of a war waged mercilessly against the human spirit – Venezuela’s freedom fighters remain true to their cause. What is just as true – when the darkness has fallen away, as it must; when the evil withers on the vine after the hatred that feeds it is exhausted – Venezuela’s freedom fighters will triumph. This I am sure of.
Nevertheless, tonight as I put my son to bed and think about Leopoldo Lopez being escorted to his hour of sunlight – a prisoner of conscience to those who have none – I sorrow. And I hope that Leopoldo Lopez’s instincts did not betray him; that his imprisonment will be brief and that his sacrifice will lead to the permanent awakening of a people who so badly need the refreshing light of dawn after the perpetual darkness of slavery.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” and in Spanish “El Teniente de San Porfirio: Cronica de una Revolucion Bolivariana”