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Venezuela: Free Activists, Delayed Trial

Venezuela's opposition welcomed the government's release of four jailed activists on Tuesday, but said it doesn't come near to meeting its demands

Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro show their support during a rally near the congress building, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Nov, 1 , 2016, photo: AP/Alejandro Cegarra
12 months ago

CARACAS, Venezuela – As a gesture of good faith, the opposition postponed — “for at least a few days” — a political trial in congress seeking to declare Nicolás Maduro’s presidency void for violating the constitution, said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition bloc of lawmakers.

The moves followed Vatican-sponsored talks on Sunday between the government and the opposition aimed at defusing a crisis sharpened by the socialist government’s maneuvers that derailed a referendum to recall Maduro.

The opposition won control of congress in December for the first time in the 17 years that the late Hugo Chávez and his political heir, Maduro, have governed the oil-rich South American nation. But Chavistas dominate the executive branch, the courts and the military.

Congress has no impeachment powers, but had summoned Maduro to a political trial on Tuesday. Maduro called the proceedings a “coup attempt” and signaled his intention to boycott it, instead launching a noon radio program dedicated to salsa music.

Borges told reporters that in response to the Roman Catholic Church’s mediation attempt, the opposition would delay the trial pending the next round of exploratory talks on Nov. 11.

The best-known of the released men is Carlos Melo, leader of a small party in the Democratic Unity opposition alliance who was held for two months. Opposition leaders complained that Melo, 65, spent more than six weeks in the basement jail of SEBIN secret police despite a release order.

The opposition alliance says it considers more than 100 people still behind bars to be political prisoners. Its executive secretary, Jesús Torrealba, called the releases “important but insufficient.”

“The releases need to continue. They should return the recall referendum or, failing that, advance presidential elections,” he told reporters.

Melo told Colombia’s Radio Blu that he believed international pressure contributed to the releases. Among top imprisoned opposition leaders are Leopoldo López, former mayor of the capital’s wealthy Chacao district, and Antonio Ledezma, the sitting Caracas mayor.

Sunday’s talks included former Presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, Martín Torrijos of Panama and Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic.

Opposition leaders have said they believe Maduro is using the dialogue as a way ease tensions exacerbated by mismanagement of the economy and oil revenues — where the opposition alleges massive graft has occurred — in the face of widespread suffering from food and medicine shortages and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Opinion surveys show four in five Venezuelans want Maduro out.


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