Caracas, October 20, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Five opposition politicians and activists have been released from prison after the resumption of talks between the Venezuelan government and the US-backed right-wing sector this week.
Opposition’s chief negotiator Gerardo Blyde broke the news on Wednesday night by posting a picture on X with journalist and Popular Will (VP) party member Roland Carreño, who had been detained since October 2020 on charges of conspiracy, terrorism financing, money laundering, weapons trafficking and association to commit a crime.
According to Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office, Carreño had diverted thousands of US dollars from the Simón Bolívar Foundation, the charitable program of Venezuela’s US-based oil subsidiary CITGO, to four major opposition parties. In 2019, the US government put CITGO under the control of the self-proclaimed “interim government” led by Juan Guaidó.
Former lawmaker and Justice First (PJ) member Juan Requesens was also among the prisoners freed on Wednesday. The opposition leader was arrested in August 2018 after being accused of participating in a failed assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. He was facing two charges of frustrated homicide and five others including terrorism and treason.
After two years of detention, Requesens was transferred to house arrest.
The other three people liberated were Marco Antonio Garcés Carapaica, arrested in 2018 and accused espionage; Mariana Barreto, imprisoned in 2019 for alleged corrupt dealings in a gas station owned by her family; and Eurinel Rincón, a secretary in the Ministry of Defense charged in 2020 with treason and leakage of information.
On October 17, the Maduro government and the hardline opposition, gathered in the self-styled Unitary Platform, met in Barbados to restart the dialogue process that had been suspended for nearly a year. With mediation from Norway, the two parties signed a twelve-point agreement laying out conditions for the upcoming presidential vote.
The agreed-to items include holding the election in the latter half of 2024, rejecting political violence, updating the electoral registry, promoting a balanced media coverage, publicly recognizing the results and invite international observation missions.
Although the deal made no mention of opposition prisoners being released, analysts have posited that their liberation was part of wider, undisclosed agreements involving US officials in exchange for temporary sanctions relief measures against the blockaded country.
The Barbados accords likewise did not lift any bans on opposition politicians currently barred from holding political office despite several media outlets having previously reported it would be part of the negotiations.
On October 22, several opposition organizations are holding a primary election to choose a unified candidate for the 2024 presidential vote. Among the candidates is far-right politician María Corina Machado, who was banned from holding political office in 2015 after embracing calls for military intervention. According to private polls, Machado is the leading contender.
Former Miranda governor Henrique Capriles, who lost presidential contests in 2012 and 2013, recently withdrew from the primaries stating that there was no indication his ban will be lifted. Capriles was barred from holding office for his involvement with violent protests that left several dead in 2013.
The resumption of dialogue between the Maduro administration and the hardline opposition led to the groundbreaking announcement of a temporary removal of sanctions against the South American country. On October 18, the US Treasury Department emitted six-month licenses allowing production, investment and sale in the Venezuelan oil, gas and gold sectors.
Additionally, the sanctions waivers remove bans on secondary trading involving Venezuelan state and PDVSA bonds and grant permission to Venezuelan state airline Conviasa for the repatriation of Venezuelan citizens from Latin American countries.
The Venezuelan government celebrated the licenses as a “first step” in the right direction.
For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a sttement threatening to revoke the licenses if the Barbados accords were not fulfilled. Blinken added that Washington expects President Maduro to reinstate banned opposition candidates by the end of November as well as freed US citizens jailed in the South American country.
In response, Venezuela’s National Assembly President, Jorge Rodríguez, who heads the government dialogue delegation, rejected Blinken’s statements as “unacceptable” and “not corresponding to reality.” He explained that opposition figures currently barred from public office were not allowed to run in any election.
Despite frictions, President Maduro said on Wednesday that “soon” he expected a visit from US diplomat Francisco Palmieri, appointed by Washington as Mission Chief of the Venezuelan Affairs Unit, located in Bogotá, Colombia.
In a virtual meeting with journalists on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, said that Palmieri’s visit to Venezuela was on the table, but clarified that Washington was “not ready” to reestablish diplomatic relations with Caracas, broken since 2019.
On Wednesday, 127 Venezuelan migrants were repatriated from Harlingen, Texas, to Caracas, as part of an agreement between the Biden and Maduro administrations announced on October 5. The deportation was carried out under an “emergency exception” issued by the US Department of Transportation, while the Venezuelan government incorporated it into its “Return to the Homeland” program.
According to authorities from both countries, more flights are expected soon. The Biden White House extended Temporary Protected Status for 18 months to nearly 500,000 Venezuelan nationals who arrived on US soil before July 31. However, any migrants who cannot prove their legal entry before the cutoff will face deportation.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.