CRISIS IN VENEZUELA

Maduro administration frees four political prisoners

Release comes a day after the Venezuelan president and opposition begin talks

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has taken a timid step toward bolstering his position in the ongoing political conflict that is convulsing his country. Mayor Carlos Ocariz, who represents the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in the first round of scheduled talks with the Maduro administration, announced on Twitter on Monday night that the government had released three individuals whom, he said, were “political prisoners.”

Nicolás Maduro at a press conference after the first meeting between the government and the opposition.
Nicolás Maduro at a press conference after the first meeting between the government and the opposition.MIGUEL GUTIERREZ / EFE

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The trio are Carlos Melo, Andrés Moreno and Marcos Trejo. Melo is a usual suspect in the administration’s conspiracy theories, and was arrested for possession of explosives on the eve of “The Taking of Caracas,” a massive opposition-led march that took place on September 1. Andrés Moreno and Marcos Trejo, meanwhile, shot a video aimed at the Venezuelan army forces tasked with policing demonstrations. The pair were charged with crimes against public servants.

EL PAÍS has also confirmed the release of Coromoto Rodríguez, the security chief of National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup, who was detained in May as one of the alleged ringleaders of the disturbances that broke out during a demonstration organized to urge the Maduro government to push through the opposition’s petition for a recall referendum.

The Venezuelan government hopes to curtail protests by any means necessary

Opposition leaders have yet to respond to the release of these prisoners. On Monday night, Congress was still determined to open an inquiry into President Nicolás Maduro’s handling of the political crisis, and MUD said it would organize a march on the presidential palace in downtown Caracas to deliver the result of that investigation to the president, a move the regime considers a provocation because it evokes memories of the violent April 2002 demonstrations that saw President Hugo Chávez deposed for 72 hours.

The Venezuelan government hopes to curtail this protest by any means necessary but even this latest gesture – freeing several political members – seems unlikely to assuage the opposition. David Smolansky, a member of Voluntad Popular, told CNN that he did not see the release of these four men as a major step forward. “Let us not lose sight of the forest,” he warned. His party is the only opposition group that has refused to sit down to negotiate with the government, citing poor conditions. Meanwhile, Voluntad Popular founder Leopoldo López, who has been imprisoned in a military facility in a Caracas suburb since 2014, remains the regime’s crown jewel.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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