The Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) has approved a new amnesty law which could grant freedom to those deemed to be “political prisoners”.
The ‘Law of Amnesty and National Reconciliation’ was approved by the opposition majority following protracted discussions on Tuesday evening in Caracas, Venezuela. The ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) party and allies rejected the bill.
The law covers the period from 1999, when the late Hugo Chávez was first elected and the PSUV gained control of the AN. The opposition regained a majority for the first time in almost 17 years after December’s parliamentary elections.
The law has now been sent to President Nicolás Maduro, who has already stated that he will not sign it. Maduro said the law was designed to “protect murderers, criminals, drug traffickers, and terrorists,” adding that “you can be certain that that law will not be making it through here.”
The new law contemplates full amnesty for a list of crimes, including a number related to public disorder and instigating violence during protests and uprisings against the government such as the April 2002 coup, the 2002-2003 oil strike, and the 2014 ‘La Salida‘ protests.
Opposition politicians and business owners will also receive amnesty for crimes such as corruption or economic speculation if the judicial proceedings against them are considered to be “impartial” “unreliable”.
Crimes against humanity, homicide, and sexual crimes (including against children) are among those that are exempt from the new amnesty law.
Opposition legislator Delsa Solórzano, one of the sponsors of the bill, said it would free some 76 “political prisoners” and hundreds more “persecuted and exiled” figures.
Leopoldo López is one of the most notable figures. He was originally condemned to 13 years and nine months for inciting violence and instigating mass protests in Februry 2014, in which 43 people died and many injured.
The case has drawn criticism from within Venezuela and abroad.
López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, who has frequently asked foreign governments to pressure Venezuela to release her husband, welcomed the accord, stating she is “full of emotion, freedom and strength.”
“Today, with this amnesty law, we’re taking a major step towards the rescue of democracy and liberty,” she explained.
“We’re going to free not just the political prisoners but the whole of Venezuela,” Tintori added.
Another prisoner of note who would likely benefit from the new law is the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who is presently under house arrest accused of plotting a coup against Maduro.
Legislators for the PSUV voted against the bill, saying it was an affront to the victims of political violence orchestrated by the opposition during 17 years of Chavismo.
PSUV legislator Nora Delgado said that the bill “aims to erase collective memory, erase from public memory the painful events that have happened during all the guarimbas (street blockades and protests).”
Under the current Venezuelan constitution, President Maduro can send the bill back to the National Assembly (AN) or to the Supreme Court, which would then rule of its constitutionality.
In yesterday’s session, the opposition majority also approved a first reading of another bill to reform the Supreme Court, which it says it is influenced by the Executive.