I really hope not.
Yaracuy Gov. Eduardo Lapi escaped from a Venezuelan prison on Sunday. He'd been imprisoned by the Chavistas for a more than a year on "corruption" charges in the state capital city of San Felipe. Venezuelan law says one is supposed to get a fair trial in less than a year but he never got it. All he had heard was that he was going to be transferred to a more dangerous prison in the coming days, according to relatives.
From what I know of Yaracuy, it sounds like there is a really vicious, venal Chavista political machine there. It forced peasants to expropriate farmers' land whether they wanted to or not. But it also had this incredibly mean woman who ran the land institute who constantly decried Christopher Colombus. She did this as a means of beating on the Spanish and Italian farmers who tried to get justice when their land was stolen by campesinos and guerrillas. Can you imagine getting abused for Christopher Colombus just because you are Spanish and then being told you deserved to have your land confiscated as a consequence? You can see the lawlessness of Venezuela right there in that vignette. That's what Lapi was operating against.
But Lapi wasn't like that. Lapi was a popular and efficient governor who I think first had the election stolen from him in 2004, shortly after Chavez's recall referendum, and accepted it stoically, but eventually was swept up because his remaining popularity continued to be a threat to the Chavistas, who were filthy, corrupt, tacky and inefficient.
I went to Yaracuy and by chance I met Gov. Lapi when he was out of office. He had not yet been arrested or taken to prison. He told me he thought they were going to eventually get him. If I recall correctly, he didn't even have a fixed place to stay because they were looking for him. And I recall they had already gotten his private house. We had scotch and dinner at Venezuelan club whose wood and dark surfaces and palms and windows sort of looked like 1940s Havana, I remember I had some kind of soup and then steak and so did he. He was a fine man, quick witted and tended to draw a crowd. I asked him if the election was stolen from him and he said, matter of factly "oh yeah." He spoke fast, sometimes too fast for me to understand, and seemed to have an agile mind.
Soon after that, he was hauled off to prison on "corruption" charges, which I do not believe had merit in themselves. Also, Chavistas don't prosecute corruption anyway, if they did, they'd have to go after themselves first.
On Sunday, he escaped. But no one knows how he got out and everyone knows he didn't have the money to pay anyone in the prison system. His "escape" is the second high-profile prison break in the last couple years, the first was of Carlos Ortega who led the great strike of 2002-2003.
His wife Jeanette, meanwhile, says he hasn't contacted her and she had no inkling of his possible escape, all she knew was that he was never given the trial he had a right to within a year, and he was slated to go to an even worse prison than he already was, and he'd already had death threats. She thinks there's been foul play and he's going to turn up in a ditch somewhere in rural Yaracuy, "shot trying to escape." It certainly is a possibility and it's a chilling one. After all, this is someone I had dinner with. It makes me worry. No one knows where he is right now.
Later in my trip, I went to the governor's mansion now being occupied by his successor who stole the election from Lapi, a guy named Gimenez who pasted his face all over the billboards in a big greasy politician grin. The locals called a drunk and showed me the fresh tire skidmarks ON THE WALLS of his governor's mansion as proof of that. I mean, who drives their Hummer (Chavistas love pricey, militaristic vehicles) on the side walls rather than across the driveway unless they aren't completely in control? When I inspected those skidmarks and got a photo, armed troops rushed out and asked me what I thought I was doing. I said I was a tourist and everything was all so beautiful, the sun, the sky, this pretty house, this architecture, these flowers ... getting the hell away from the guy as fast as I could. But I got the skidmark picture, think I have posted it earlier, and I will do so again when I can.
I hope Gov. Lapi really did escape and is safe in Bogota or Mexico City or Miami. He doesn't deserve any of this. The fact that he was targeted by the Chavistas, had the election stolen from him, had his freedom taken from him and now may have had his life taken from him is too much injustice to contemplate. Keep watching and waiting.
Daniel at Venezuela News & Views has an absolutely riveting three-post roundup of all that's being said in the Venezuelan press about this strange and disturbing case. I really enjoyed reading this update of his. Highly recommended, read the whole thing here, here and here.
See also what Venezuela Today has in updates.