Mérida, September 2, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro issued a presidential pardon to 110 political opponents.
The measure contemplated 20 National Assembly (AN) deputies, while the rest are citizens jailed for various causes. Several sought diplomatic asylum or fled charges by moving abroad.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez made the announcement on Monday, claiming that the presidential decree seeks “national reconciliation” and the return of political actions to “constitutional, electoral ways.”
For his part, Maduro defended the decision.
“I realize that many people are outraged, but I ask for your understanding,” he said in a televised address. “I assume my responsibilities for signing the decree.” The Venezuelan president stressed that the move was a step to foster “dialogue and reconciliation” in the country.
Freddy Guevara, was one of the deputies who received the pardon. A leader in the hard right Popular Will party, Guevara was a leading figure in the 2017 violent “guarimba” street protests and fled to the Chilean Ambassador’s residence in Caracas after having his parliamentary immunity revoked.
Also pardoned was Roberto Marrero, chief of staff to opposition leader Juan Guaido, who had been accused of organizing a “terrorist cell” using foreign mercenaries.
Lawmakers Tomas Guanipa and Jose Guerra were also included in the list, having fled the country fearing arrest on accusations of involvement in organizing violent protests. Former AN Vice President Edgar Zambrano and other figures likewise had charges dropped after their participation in the April 30, 2019 failed coup attempt.
However, some high profile opposition leaders were not contemplated, such as Leopoldo Lopez who has been living for more than a year at the Spanish Ambassador’s residence in Caracas, and Julio Borges who is currently in Colombia. Lopez was handed a 13-year sentence for his role in 2014 street violence before escaping during last year’s coup attempt, while Borges was charged for his alleged involvement in the August 2018 assassination attempt against Maduro.
The pardons came after the release of lawmaker Juan Requesens to house arrest. He was detained two years ago on accusations of participating in the August 2018 failed drone attack.
As the country heads toward parliamentary elections on December 6, the decision is seen by some analysts as an effort to boost participation as part of a set of guarantees for elections.
Juan Guaido saluted the relatives of those released, but said he would not fall for the “trap” of legitimizing December’s elections. He and other Venezuelan opposition leaders have vowed to boycott the contest, claiming that they are rigged, while other figures such as two-time former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have encouraged voters to go to the polls.
Maduro’s presidential pardon also garnered international reactions, with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet praising it as “a positive step in efforts to open up a democratic space and improve the human rights in the country.”
Likewise, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell labeled the pardons as “good news”.
For its part, the State Department struck a different tone, calling the decisions “token actions” and reiterating that Washington will not recognize the upcoming AN elections.
Maduro has reiterated calls for dialogue with the opposition in recent years. A process mediated by the Norwegian government in 2019 was abandoned after Washington imposed a general embargo against the Caribbean nation in August.
Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.