Venezuela Congress Passes Amnesty Law to Free Jailed Politicians

  • Law aimed at freeing politicians, activists held since 2014
  • President Maduro, government backers have vowed to defeat law

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress upheld a campaign promise and approved an amnesty law late Tuesday that is likely to deepen an institutional standoff with President Nicolas Maduro.

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Voting across party lines, the National Assembly passed the Law of National Amnesty and Reconciliation, aimed at freeing dozens of jailed politicians and activists, many of whom were imprisoned during a wave of anti-government protests two years ago. The ruling socialists decried the bill as a grant of blanket-freedom to “coup mongers” and have pledged to block its passage.

“This law has not been made so that those who committed crimes in 2014 will not be punished, on the contrary, this law is made to give justice to the country,” opposition Popular Will deputy Juan Andres Mejia said during the debate.

The central plank of the opposition’s landslide victory in last year’s congressional elections was a pledge to secure freedom for President Maduro’s political opponents, the most prominent being Leopoldo Lopez, a two-time mayor of an upscale Caracas district, sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for incitement. Since wresting control of congress, the opposition has seen its majority narrowed and its key decisions overturned by the Supreme Court.

The president, who had pledged to defeat the bill, lobbied congress and the wider court of public opinion right up to the last possible minute.

“They are approving a law to protect killers,criminals, narco-traffickers and terrorists,” Maduro warned in a televised address that aired while the bill was being debated. “You can be sure it will not pass.”

Earlier this month, the high court overturned congress’s second attempt to block Maduro’s requests for decree powers, which he says are necessary to fight triple-digit inflation and the biggest economic contraction in more than a decade.

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