Venezuela Opposition Says 5 ‘Political Prisoners’ Released

  • Release comes after Vatican-mediated talks started Sunday
  • Opposition says it’s still planning to advance with agenda

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, right, looks at Vatican's pontifical council for social communications, Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli as he gives a speech at the meeting between Venezuela's government and opposition leaders for Vatican-backed talks, in a bid to defuse the country's political crisis, in Caracas on October 30, 2016.

Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Venezuela’s opposition alliance said late Monday that the government of Nicolas Maduro released five opposition figures from jail in what could be the first sign of a political thaw after Vatican-mediated talks started up on Sunday.

“The first political prisoners have been liberated,” opposition alliance general secretary Jesus ‘Chuo’ Torrealba said in a post on his Twitter account, naming Carlos Melo, Marco Trejo, Andres Moreno, Andres Leon and Coromoto Rodriguez.

The release of political prisoners has emerged as a key issue in the start up of the Vatican dialogue process, with one of the main opposition parties - Voluntad Popular - sitting the talks out as its leader, Leopoldo Lopez, remains in jail. The opposition alliance said in a post on Twitter today that over 100 opposition leaders and activists are still in jail.

Carlos Ocariz, the mayor of the Sucre municipality of Caracas and member of the opposition party Primero Justicia, said in posts on his Twitter account that the opposition would continue with its planned actions, possibly including a march to the presidential palace on Thursday.

To read about the Vatican dialogue process, click here.

“The dialogue doesn’t cancel out the other actions,” he said in a post on his Twitter account, adding that the opposition was seeking a general election in 2017 as part of the dialogue process. The opposition alliance hasn’t yet released an official statement or said if the march would continue as planned.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly summoned Maduro to appear in Congress today for a largely symbolic trial that would hold him responsible for the current economic and political crisis. Maduro said last week that he would jail anyone - even lawmakers - who violated the constitution.

While Maduro’s administration is likely engaging in the Vatican-mediated talks to alleviate international pressure and buy time, the opposition is divided over specific demands, Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said on Monday in an e-mailed report, adding that opposition parties Accion Democratica and Voluntad Popular are insisting on a referendum this year while the Primero Justicia and Un Nuevo Tiempo parties favor early presidential and legislative elections next year.

Maduro met with Pope Francis in Rome last week after the opposition alliance confirmed that the Vatican had sent a representative to Venezuela’s capital. Tensions have been rising since the national electoral council earlier this month suspended a recall referendum process against Maduro being sought by the opposition.

“The government has strong incentives to drag out this process for as long as possible, which means that it will likely strike a more conciliatory stance at the outset in the hopes of keeping the opposition engaged and keeping international pressure at bay, ” Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielskawrote wrote. “It may move to free some political prisoners in order to keep the opposition from walking away.”

High profile opposition figures still in jail include Leopoldo Lopez, former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos, opposition organizer Yon Goicoechea, and Delson Guarate, also an opposition mayor.

“The coming hours are decisive because we’ll know if the meeting between the government and opposition achieves something,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said late Monday in a statement, before the release of the five prisoners, adding that the opposition’s principal objective was to have a date set for an electoral process. “The agenda we have set remains. It will change if the government wants it to change.”

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