Leopoldo Lopez throws the gauntlet at Chavez

Leo's lectern
Leopoldo Lopez today announced officially his candidacy for president of Venezuela, for October 2012 vote. And he made it clear that his adversary was Hugo Chavez, not the opposition primaries. As the event would go on he would often enough remind people of his commitment to a new Venezuela, to opposition unity, to the decided challenge to Chavez (not necessarily chavistas).

Having covered the travails of Lopez with the IACHR extensively gave me an invitation to cover the event.  Not to mention that I was already at the start, when Voluntad Popular was launched as a movement.  I suppose that being the last English writing blogger in Venezuela made it my duty to go and cover the event today instead of a well needed rest.  But it turned out to be quite interesting and worth the time, my first ever candidacy launch!

Going to mainstage
The day was cloudy which was as well.  Saturday being shopping day in Chacaito parking was hell as attendants let people over-park.  I was thus stuck in a basement for half an hour besides a car of cheerful VP guys waving a flag.  But I got enough of waiting for a spot to open, left in a huff and went to park several blocks away.

Vendors ready!
The event was on Tamanaco street of El Rosal, a rather small venue, but then again it was not a mass rally.  Indeed, what I attended was a rally of the faithful, of dedicated people who in two years managed to cobble together a political party and get a candidate with world wide exposure as the guy that took on Chavez in-justice system, and won.  Well, won the credit anyway, the material victory still up in the air, depending on whether Chavez will risk blunt repeal of the IACHR.

El Pueblo of Voluntad Popular
The rally must thus not be judged on the extent of the crowd but rather on the enthusiasm.  After all it was Leopoldo speaking to the faithful and a turn out of several thousand (maybe 5?) was good enough as long as they were all cheery.  They were.

My first observations as slowly but surely I made my way to the stage were on the very mixed crowds, clearly cutting across social lines,and, shall we dare to write it, racial lines.  I think chavistas must be starting to feel scared that so many of what passes for its captive electorate is now showing up at opposition rallies.  In fact, it almost felt like a chavista rally of years ago...  I am including a few shots of thew crowd for you look by yourselves at the great mix of folks.  And as usual, by the way, click to enlarge and get the details.

The atmosphere was festive indeed, with plenty of interesting folks to look at such as this drummer from Zulia?  Barlovento?  I did not ask, too much noise already.  Elsewhere folks organized impromptu dancing, or something.

But the atmosphere was also festive in a different way when I finally climbed on the "VIP" stand: plenty of opposition figures were at hand, from all colors (except Primero Justicia who should start getting over the desertion of Leopoldo by now).  There was the mayor of Baruta, Gerardo Blyde, UNT.  There were several Assembly folks (Cocchiola of Valencia, Stalin of Caracas, etc..) and even another candidate, Diego Arria.  Apparently they all came not only for courtesy but to show the strongest support to Lopez in his fight against the regime in forcing it to abide by the IACHR ruling.

The view from the grades was good enough and it helped me accept the fact that once up there, I could not escape until the speeches were over.  But in the end I did not mind, the allergy that I developed to political speeches under Chavez turning out to be a Chavez allergy.  Leopoldo does not do small talk.

Street Dancing
The show started with a long motivational video that reminded us all the troubles of Leopoldo and the program of VP.  Well done, with proficiency.  As the array of cameras held by long beams roved all around to film the crowd and its reaction.  VP seems to have the means to rent stuff now.  Or is it that Venevision is trying to make a come back by helping Lopez, as rumors have it?  At this point I really do not care as to who finances whom now, the time of virginal politics is long gone and anything is good enough to get rid of Chavez, who on his side has absolutely no qualm in using all the state apparatus and finances for his campaigns.  Let's keep that in mind, shall we?
The view from my stand (Globovision's Roland CarreƱo on top)

Leopoldo made his entry after the video, alone with wife and daughter.  Big ovation, and then he was alone on his pulpit (seen above, as I went backstage at the end).

The usual chavista chopper
His speech was really more geared at the press and public opinion than to his followers and thus there was a an occasional lack of synchronicity between Leopoldo's sometime fancy words and the reaction of the crowd.  Thus not as much roaring as I was expecting (though it started well when Leopoldo repeated his "Chavez, are you afraid of me?").  Or maybe it was some lack of experience yet: after all Leopoldo has been building VP almost one to one and only now he is starting to address larger rallies.  There is training curve, even in politics.  But besides this qualm of mine, the speech was solid, maybe with a couple of unnecessary and untenable promises but with other strong points that really had an impact.
More "pueblo"

The first one is the announcement that Leopoldo Lopez, if elected, will be a one term president, will seek to go back to the traditional one term presidency of Venezuelan democratic history.  This is big for me because Leopoldo has indirectly admitted that an eventual governemt of him will be plagued by hard decisions and as such he is already aware that reelection will not be possible.  I like very much that realism as to the Venezuelan situation.  I have to praise him for an almost  self offering as a sacrificial victim.  This is a statesman speech such as they are woefully lacking among other candidates, as I already noted.

Confetti rain
The second highlight was the real show stopper, the roaring moment.  That came when Leopoldo addressed the injustice now prevalent in Venezuela and he must have touched a raw nerve with the attendance. Indeed, even though he has become himself the poster boy of those who have no option but seek justice outside of Venezuela, it is also true that chavismo abuses are now having a toll at all levels.  Not only the abuses of the public workers who now are unaccountable of their actions, but also the everyday abuses by chavistas at the Communal Councils, or the Reserva, must be hitting a lot of people in the crowds that attended today.  Amen of the utter lack of justice for the victims of the high crime rate of Venezuela.  VP could do worse than have its focus group centered on this.

Once the speech was over, in good US style, a confetti rain fell over Leopoldo who was joined again by wife and daughter.  After that Leopoldo got down to press the flesh, something he has got excellent at, what he does best in fact.  I even made a short video of the moment.

PS: On an unrelated note.  When I was leaving I found Diego Arria giving an interview to state media guys.,  I think it noteworthy because they came without badges or anything that could identify them, even though the guy with the mic is a well known prankster of sorts that came from Avila TV, I think, and who does infamous shots for La Hojilla.  As far as I was told, they never went in to cover the event.  Then again they might have heard how the surveillance chopper of Chavez was booed and preferred to stay put, hunting in the back.  For a hint at how the launch of Lopez will be covered by state media you may read this RNV snippet....

Yet Arria had no qualm talking to that guy and keeping his cool.  Still, a couple of minutes later some woman started bitching at them.  I am sure she will be on VTV but not Arria who did not say something outrageous (for their taste).  While the women bitched, Arria was calmly buying an ice cream cone to a street vendor and I went to talk to him.  Maybe another political event for VN&V to cover soon?

Diego Arria "cornered" by VTV