Christmas freedom for Venezuela detainees

Christmas freedom for Venezuela detainees

CARACAS  – It’s the time for peace and reconciliation. In a Christmas gesture to the opposition, Venezuela decided on Saturday (Dec 23) to free about 80 people detained during demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

Ms Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the assembly and head of its Truth Commission investigating the protests, said a recommendation on the release had gone to Mr Maduro and the relevant criminal justice offices.

“We hope this will be done in the coming hours,” she said, adding that Christmas was “a moment of reconciliation”. Mr Rodriguez met with 13 of those who will be released, according to images on state television.

“You go back to jail for the medical check and then you go home to spend Christmas with your families,” she said.

The fate of those imprisoned has been a subject of negotiations between the government and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in Venezuela, as both sides seek a solution to the country’s grave political and economic crisis.

A third round of talks is set for Jan 11 and 12.

Earlier this week, Venezuelan opposition leaders asked Mr Maduro to free “political prisoners” – whose numbers one non-governmental group has put at 268 – before Christmas as a gesture of goodwill.

On Thursday, the regional trade bloc Mercosur also called for their release.

The government has insisted that all are being held for acts of violence, conspiracy or treason, not as “political prisoners”.

Ms Rodriguez said those affected were being held in both civilian and military prisons, and she suggested community service as an alternative to imprisonment. Some were detained in 2014 protests, and others this year.

Venezuela, whose oil reserves once made it the region’s richest country, has been paralysed in recent years by economic collapse and political conflict.

Opposition forces accuse Mr Maduro of dismantling democratic institutions and setting up the Constituent Assembly to rubber-stamp his policies.

Supplies of food and medicine have become scarce, taking an ever-greater toll on people’s health, and hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have chosen to emigrate.

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