Relatives of jailed Venezuelan police, military clamor for their release

CARACAS, Sept 3- Relatives of at least 259 jailed Venezuelan police and military officers are clamoring for their release, upset that none of them were included on the list of 110 people pardoned by President Nicolas Maduro’s government this week. “They use political prisoners at their convenience,” said Andreina Baduel, the daughter of retired general and…

By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Relatives of at least 259 jailedVenezuelan police and military officers are clamoring for theirrelease, upset that none of them were included on the list of110 people pardoned by President Nicolas Maduro’s governmentthis week.

Maduro’s government on Monday pardoned the oppositionpoliticians and activists, several of whom were jailed, monthsahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for Dec. 6.

Major opposition parties pledged to boycott the vote,arguing it will be rigged in favor of Maduro’s socialist party,though two opposition leaders have opened talks with thegovernment to participate.

But none of the uniformed prisoners – many of whom arecharged with conspiring to oust Maduro or his predecessor andmentor, the late Hugo Chavez – were among those pardoned.

“They use political prisoners at their convenience,” saidAndreina Baduel, the daughter of retired general and formerdefense minister Raul Baduel, who remains behind bars.

Baduel was arrested in 2009 on corruption charges andreleased in 2017 but was immediately arrested again forallegedly conspiring against Maduro. He has not yet been triedon the second accusation, and his lawyers have been unable toaccess his case file, his daughter said.

“He is in limbo,” she said.

Excluding police and military officers from the list ofthose pardoned shows Venezuela’s government uses politicallymotivated and arbitrary detentions to intimidate critics and usetheir release as bargaining chips, said relatives interviewed byReuters.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said in a statementthat the pardons represent only a third of the politicalprisoners Venezuela holds and do not address the underlyingpolitical crisis.

“Hundreds of political prisoners remain, and like those nowoffered house arrest or an end (for the moment) to theircriminal cases, none of these Venezuelans should ever have beenimprisoned for a single day,” the statement said.

Asked why they were not included, chief prosecutor TarekSaab said the recommendations came from the Commission forTruth, Justice and Public Tranquility, a group comprised ofMaduro allies that investigates acts of political violence.

“We looked at the cases where it was valid to dictate thispardon,” Saab said in a telephone interview, withoutelaborating.

Esther Bolivar says she has not slept well since her son wasarrested 17 years ago. Her son, police officer Erasmo Bolivar,was sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly woundingprotesters during marches in 2002 that were part of anopposition effort to oust Chavez.

“This problem has buried me; I want to be with my son,”Esther Bolivar said while leaning against the wall of herapartment in the seaside town of Catia La Mar north of thecapital Caracas. She keeps photos of her son, as well astrophies he won as an amateur basketball player, in the livingroom of her apartment.

His lawyer, Theresly Malave, said he did not shoot atprotesters, but rather was was tending to injured demonstrators.

“These years have been full of pain,” said Maria Bolivar,Erasmo Bolivar’s aunt and an activist for uniformed prisoners.”What does the government want by keeping these boys in jail?”(Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; editing by JonathanOatisAdditional reporting by Angus Berwick in LondonWriting by Luc CohenEditing by Jonathan Oatis)

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