Popular Will

Popular Will
Voluntad Popular
AbbreviationVP
LeaderLeopoldo López
Founded5 December 2009
IdeologyCentrism[1]
Social democracy
Progressivism
Political positionCentre to centre-left
National affiliationDemocratic Unity Roundtable
International affiliationSocialist International
ColoursOrange
Seats in the National Assembly
18 / 167
Seats in the Latin American Parliament
2 / 12
Seats in the Mercosur Parliament
3 / 23
Governors
0 / 23
Mayors
0 / 337
Website
voluntadpopular.com

Popular Will (Spanish: Voluntad Popular; VP) is a centrist[2][3] social-democratic political party in Venezuela admitted into the Socialist International in December 2014,[4] founded by former Mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo López, who is its national co-ordinator. The party currently holds 14 out of 167 seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly, the country's parliament, and is a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the electoral coalition that currently holds a supermajority in the National Assembly.

The party was formed in reaction to alleged infringements of individual freedom and human rights on the part of the socialist government of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. The party attempts to bring together Venezuelans of various backgrounds who consider “chavismo” oppressive and authoritarian. Popular Will self-identifies itself as “a pluralist and democratic movement” that is committed to “progress,” which it defines as the realization of “the social, economic, political, and human rights of every Venezuelan.”[5]

The party’s "fundamental pillars" are progress, democracy, and social action.[5]

History

Background and foundation

Popular Will traces its roots to the Popular Networks (Redes Populares) formed in 2004 as a means of promoting social action and leadership. The year 2007 saw the formation of the so-called “2D” opposition movement, which considered the constitutional referendum called by Hugo Chávez an attempt to impose dictatorship on the country.

This was followed in 2009 by the formation of the Social Action (Accion Social) movement, which brought together “youths, workers, community leaders, business people, and politicians.”[5]

On December 5, 2009, López, along with the other leaders of other political parties, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Primero Justicia, and Acción Democrática,[6][7] officially announced the formation of the Popular Will Movement (Movimiento Voluntad Popular) at a forum in Valencia, Carabobo.

The National Electoral Council, on February 1, 2010, refused to allow the group to call itself Movimiento Voluntad Popular, supposedly because of the similarity between this name and that of the Movimiento Base Popular, a regional political party in Apure. This frustrated the party’s desire to field candidates in the 2010 parliamentary election; nonetheless, three party members won election to the National Assembly, two of them with the support of the Coalition for Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD).[8]

On January 14, 2011, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela (Consejo Nacional Electoral) formally accepted Popular Will as a legitimate political party. This was followed by an unprecedented event in Venezuelan political history, namely the choice of a party’s officials in open elections, which were held on July 10, 2011. Later, MUD candidates for the presidency and state government offices were selected in primaries that took place on February 12, 2012. Leopoldo López had retired himself and supported Henrique Capriles Radonski who was elected as the MUD candidate for presidential election of October 7, 2012. Hugo Chávez was reelected as president and the party received 471,677 votes. In the regional elections on December 16, 2012, the party was established as the fourth largest party in MUD coalition and as the sixth nationwide. The youth leader, David Smolansky, won the 2013 municipal election for mayor of the municipality of El Hatillo in Miranda State.[9]

Protest movement

Protestors in Caracas on 12 February 2014.

The Popular Will Party played a central role in the protests that took place in Venezuela in early 2014. López was blamed by the government of president Nicolas Maduro for three deaths that occurred during protests on February 12, and the next day a Caracas court upheld a request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office to order his arrest. “Without a doubt, the violence was created by small groups coordinated, exalted and financed by Leopoldo López,” said Jorge Rodriguez, the Socialist Party mayor of the Libertador municipality in Caracas.

“The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time,” López claimed. “They're blaming me without any proof....I have a clear conscience because we called for peace.” He added: “We won't retreat and we can't retreat because this is about our future, about our children, about millions of people.”[10] On February 16, López announced he would turn himself in to the Venezuelan government after one more protest. “I haven't committed any crime,” he said. ”If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I'll submit myself to this persecution.”[11]

In early March 2014, a peaceful protest march in Caracas, organized by the Student Movement (Movimiento Estudiantil) and supported by Popular Will, was dispersed by members of the National Guard (GNB) and National Police (PNB) using tear gas and gunshots. This action prevented the marchers from reaching the headquarters of the national Ombudsman, where they planned to demand the resignation of Gabriela Ramirez for justifying acts of torture and other violations of human rights committed by the government of Nicolás Maduro. At this point López had been in prison for 22 days.[12] Popular Will, in response to this action, stated that Maduro, “in addition to being illegitimate, is a murderer.” Party official Freddy Guevara emphasized that Popular Will believed in a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power, and called on the Venezuelan people to maintain pressure on the government to provide justice and freedom, saying that “the power of the street” must be used “to force the government to uphold the constitution.” He added. “We cannot rest until Leopoldo López is free.”[13]

Arrests

Since the party became more involved in Venezuela's protest movement, numerous members of Popular Will have been arrested. In March 2018, The New York Times reported that over 90 members of Popular Will have been detained by the Maduro government.[14]

Party headquarters raid

On 17 February 2014, “alleged members of military counterintelligence” broke into the headquarters of Popular Will without a search warrant and holding people at gunpoint. In videotapes of the incident that were later made public, armed men are seen threatening people in one room of the headquarters and violently breaking down a door in order to enter another room. Carlos Vecchio, the party’s national political coordinator, reported the incident via Twitter. López, in his own tweet, urged his followers to spread the word about the incident.[15]

Arrest of López

Patricia Gutiérrez (Mayor of San Cristóbal), David Smolansky (Mayor of El Hatillo) and Lilian Tintori gathered at Ramo Verde Prison following López's arrest.

On February 18, López delivered a speech in Plaza Brión calling for “a pacific exit” from authoritarian government, “within the constitution but in the streets.” He lamented the loss of independent media in the country and declared that if his imprisonment helped Venezuelans to wake up once and for all and demand change, it would have been worth it. He said he could have left the country, but instead had “stayed to fight for the oppressed people in Venezuela.”[16] He thereupon turned himself in to the National Guard, saying that he was handing himself over to a “corrupt justice” system.[17] On February 20, Supervisory Judge Ralenis Tovar Guillén, issued a pre-trial detention order against López in response to formal charges of “arson of a public building,” “damages to public property,” “instigation to commit a crime,” and “associating for organized crime.”[18]

Human-rights organizations around the world condemned the arrest of López, with Amnesty International, in a February 19 statement, calling it “a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent”[19] and Human Rights Watch accusing the Venezuelan government of adopting “the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime.”[20] The New York-based Human Rights Foundation declared López a prisoner of conscience on February 20 and called for his immediate release, adding: “Either Maduro releases López and calls for an honest dialogue with all of the opposition, or he must step down for the sake of all Venezuelans: both those who support chavismo and those who do not. Venezuela does not need an executioner willing to kill half of the country. Venezuela needs a president.”[18]

On February 26, López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, led a quiet protest of female students just prior to a government peace conference.[21]

Arrest warrant for Vecchio

Vecchio's arrest warrant.

The day after López's arrest, the government issued an arrest warrant for Carlos Vecchio, who with López in jail was serving as the de facto leader of Popular Will. He was charged with the same offenses as López: arson, criminal association, damages to public property, and instigation to commit a crime.[22] Vecchio, who was in hiding, defied the arrest order. Meanwhile, public unrest continued, with the official death toll from more than two weeks of violence rising to 17.[23] Enrique Betancourt, writing in the Yale Daily News, described Vecchio, a 2013 Yale World Fellow, as a champion of freedom who, unlike López, “is not an internationally recognizable figure (yet).” Betancourt expressed the concern that this “relative anonymity will allow government forces to arrest Carlos and violate his human rights with impunity and without fear of any international repercussion.”[24] On March 22, as street protests continued, Vecchio, still defying the arrest order, addressed a crowd of supporters in Caracas.[25]

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