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World News

Relatives of jailed Venezuelan police, military clamour for their release

CARACAS (Reuters) - Relatives of at least 259 jailed Venezuelan police and military officers are clamouring 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.

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

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

But none of the uniformed prisoners - many of whom are charged with conspiring to oust Maduro or his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez - were among those pardoned.

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

Baduel was arrested in 2009 on corruption charges and released in 2017 but was immediately arrested again for allegedly conspiring against Maduro. He has not yet been tried on the second accusation, and his lawyers have been unable to access his case file, his daughter said.

“He is in limbo,” she said.

Excluding police and military officers from the list of those pardoned shows Venezuela’s government uses politically motivated and arbitrary detentions to intimidate critics and use their release as bargaining chips, said relatives interviewed by Reuters.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said in a statement that the pardons represent only a third of the political prisoners Venezuela holds and do not address the underlying political crisis.

“Hundreds of political prisoners remain, and like those now offered house arrest or an end (for the moment) to their criminal cases, none of these Venezuelans should ever have been imprisoned for a single day,” the statement said.

Asked why they were not included, chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said the recommendations came from the Commission for Truth, Justice and Public Tranquility, a group comprised of Maduro allies that investigates acts of political violence.

“We looked at the cases where it was valid to dictate this pardon,” Saab said in a telephone interview, without elaborating.

Esther Bolivar says she has not slept well since her son was arrested 17 years ago. Her son, police officer Erasmo Bolivar, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly wounding protesters during marches in 2002 that were part of an opposition 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 her apartment in the seaside town of Catia La Mar north of the capital Caracas. She keeps photos of her son, as well as trophies he won as an amateur basketball player, in the living room of her apartment.

His lawyer, Theresly Malave, said he did not shoot at protesters, but rather 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 Jonathan Oatis; Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in London; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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