Venezuelan Government Releases Five Opposition Activists in Goodwill Gesture

The liberation of the prisoners is the first concrete agreement to emerge from recently initiated dialogue between the national government and the political opposition. 

By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas
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Maduro speaks following talks with the opposition on Monday. (Prensa Presidencial)
Maduro speaks following talks with the opposition on Monday. (Prensa Presidencial)

Caracas, November 1, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s national government has agreed to release five jailed opposition activists in a goodwill gesture as part of its official talks with the country’s opposition.

The liberation of the prisoners is the first concrete agreement to emerge from the Vatican-mediated dialogue, initiated Sunday with representatives of four opposition parties. 

On Monday evening, opposition mayor Carlos Ocariz took to social media to announce the negotiated release, confirming the freed prisoners as Andrés Moreno, Marco Trejo, Carlos Melo, Ángel Coromoto Rodríguez, and Andrés Leon– all arrested for their participation in violent protests or for the incitement of political violence.

As former security chief to opposition National Assembly President Ramos Allup, Ángel Coromoto Rodríguez, was arrested in May for allegedly bankrolling anti-police violence during opposition protests, while Melo was detained on August 31 for the possession of explosives. Similarly Moreno and Trejo were both arrested in late September after creating a video inciting a rebellion of the armed forces.  

The longest-serving inmate amongst the group is Andres Leon, who was arrested during the deadly 2014 street violence known as the “guarimbas”. He was granted house-arrest on health grounds in June last year. 

“Not enough” 

The announcement comes just three days ahead of an anti-government march on the Miraflores Presidential Palace, called by the opposition for this coming Thursday.  

Opposition leaders had previously hinted that they would be willing to consider calling off the demonstration depending on the progress of the talks, which they say are contingent on the release of their activists from jail.  

Nonetheless, the government’s gesture appears to have done little to dissuade the MUD leadership from going forward with the controversial march– despite the violence unleashed by their supporters during protests last week. 

“The release of the political prisoners is important, but not sufficient," MUD Secretary Jesus Chuo Torrealba told reporters. 

On Tuesday morning, the MUD opposition coalition also retweeted a message from legislator Freddy Guevara insisting that Thursday’s march would “still go ahead”. Guevara is a lawmaker for the ultra-right Popular Will party, which is currently boycotting the talks.  

The coalition has been deeply divided over the decision to partake in official negotiations with the government, with proponents describing the top-level talks as just “one more terrain of struggle” amongst many.  

Meanwhile, the government has hailed the move as a sign of its willingness to negotiate with the opposition in a bid to ease tensions in the politically polarised country.  

“We, who have been permanently waiting for opposition sectors to (commit to) dialogue, salute the fact that it has finally taken place,” Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, told press at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.  

The opposition has stated that it will not negotiate on its demands for a presidential recall referendum this year or on the release of all of its activists from jail, regardless of their crime. The MUD has yet to release an official statement confirming the status of Thursday’s march.

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