Catholic Church Backs Opposition on Approval of Controversial Amnesty Law

The Catholic Church in Venezuela has waded into the controversial debate on the opposition’s electoral promise to pass an “Amnesty Law” on gaining a two-third majority in the country’s parliament.  

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Cardinal Urosa Sabino has backed the MUD over its proposed amnesty law (Aporrea)
Cardinal Urosa Sabino has backed the MUD over its proposed amnesty law (Aporrea)

Caracas, December 14, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Catholic Church in Venezuela has waded into the controversial debate on the opposition’s electoral promise to pass an “Amnesty Law” on gaining a two-third majority in the country’s parliament. 

The highly contentious amnesty law would be used principally for the benefit of jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who was found guilty of inciting the opposition violence which led to the deaths of 43 people during the street barricades (Guarimbas) last year. He was condemned to 13 years in prison by the Venezuelan courts in September 2015. Several other people have also been handed down lesser sentences or are on trial for their role in the violence. 

“There should be an amnesty law because there are a great number of people in jail for crimes related to political actions. For me that is unjust,” said the head of the Catholic Church in Venezuela, the Archbishop of Caracas Jorge Urosa Savino, on Sunday.  

After the opposition's crushing victory in the parliamentary elections of December 6th, several leaders of the “Democratic Roundtable” (MUD) have confirmed that they will push for the law when the National Assembly begins its work on January 5th 2016. It features as one of the first points in their “Let's Save Venezuela Plan“ (Plan Rescatemos Venezuela). 

“The country is going in the wrong direction because they [the government] want to apply a totalitarian, Marxist and Communist model,” added the ultra conservative cardinal. 

“Popular Will” party founder López is pinned to be one of the strongest contenders for the MUD’s official presidential candidate in the next national elections should he be released - but he is a divisive figure amongst the general population.

Nonetheless, his case has become a cause celebre for the opposition and its allies in the Catholic church, which supported the political and military leaders that led the short-lived coup d’etat against former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2002. 

They claim that his sentence is politically motivated and that Lopez is not directly responsible for last year’s violence - despite his public role in calling for the protests. But the government and national human rights organisations have argued that Lopez called on his followers to enact mass human rights violations against the Venezuelan population in order to oust the democratically elected government.  

On Sunday, congressman Luis Florido (Popular Will) and other opposition leaders congregated in front of the Ramo Verde Prison where Lopez is serving his sentence.

“We came to Ramo Verde to tell Leopoldo that the Amnesty Law will be approved by the congressmen of freedom,” he said. 

But attempts to pass the law in parliament look set to be met by staunch resistance from the President, Nicolas Maduro of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who has vowed not to sign the law. 

The president is able to twice throw out a law proposed by congress, following which it would be escalated to the Supreme Court which has the final say. The body can ultimately block the legislation if it is found to be unconstitutional - a stance maintained by around forty Human Rights Organizations which have already taken to the media to denounce the proposed legislation as a violation of the country’s constitution. 

In particular, the Organization for the Victims of the Guarimbas and the Coup (Comité de Víctimas de la Guarimba y el Golpe) has “categorically” rejected the opposition's plan for the amnesty law. They say the legislation would breach article 29 of the Bolivarian Constitution  which forbids impunity in cases of violations of human rights. 

Edgar Márquez, President of the Association of the Victims of the Coup d'Etat (Asovic), condemned the opposition's proposal as “opening the jail's doors for a group of criminals”. 

Although the MUD is pushing strongly for the Amnesty Law, the opposition coalition appeared to show signs of infighting last week. 

Tensions mounted when Henrique Capriles Radonski, former presidential candidate for the MUD and another possible candidate for the next elections, did not participate in a press conference organized by the coalition and instead gave his own press meeting. 

Leader of the Democratic Action party Ramos Allup accused Capriles of running “his own political campaign” and of “disrespecting the demands of the people”.

The opposition would need all of its 112 allied legislators in the National Assembly to vote in favour of the law in order for it to be set in motion. 

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