(Bloomberg, 31.Aug.2020) — Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro issued a surprise decree pardoning more than 100 of his opponents as a concession ahead of upcoming congressional elections.
Former National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara and Roberto Marrero, opposition leader Juan Guaido’s chief of staff, are among more than two dozen lawmakers pardoned in Monday’s decree. Dozens of political activists and labor union leaders were also pardoned, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said.
The measure seeks to promote a “peaceful coexistence through electoral channels,” Rodriguez said on state TV. “It’s important that all sectors can feel that they have someone to vote for.”
The opposition had repeatedly called for political prisoners’ freedom as a condition for taking part in December’s elections. In recent years, Maduro’s regime has threatened, detained or stripped parliamentary immunity from dozens of lawmakers who oppose his rule.
The opposition is split over whether to take part in the vote. Before today’s announcement, Guaido had said he would boycott it, while former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has openly weighed participating.
“The government is using political prisoners as bargaining chips,” said Caracas-based political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas. “It’s focused on weakening Guaido and creating major divisions among the opposition.”
Among those to be freed from jail are Popular Will lawmakers Renzo Prieto, who was detained in March, and Gilber Caro, who was jailed in December for his alleged role in planning an attack on a military installation.
Guevara is currently a refugee at the Chilean embassy in Caracas, after the government accused him of promoting violent anti-government protests that left more than 100 dead and he lost his parliamentary immunity.
Guaido and his ally Leopoldo Lopez were not on the list, and neither were former Chavez ministers Raul Baduel and Miguel Rodriguez Torres.
Popular Will confirmed on Twitter that Marrero and lawmakers Prieto and Caro were released on Monday night.
“Our embrace to the families of those who have been released today. I share the feeling that you and your families have tonight,” Guaido said on Twitter.
Still, Guaido was clear about what he sees as the intent of the pardons, saying that they seek to legitimize an electoral “farce.”