Regime foe free from prison cell

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Fabiola Sanchez

CARACAS, VENEZUELA» Op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez was re­leased from prison and placed un­der house ar­rest Satur­day after more than three years in mil­i­tary lockup, a shock re­ver­sal that fu­eled hopes for a broader amnesty for dozens of jailed ac­tivists as the coun­try slides ever deeper into po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

Venezuela’s gov­ern­mentstacked Supreme Court said in a state­ment that it had granted Lopez the “hu­man­i­tar­ian mea­sures” for health rea­sons and “se­ri­ous signs of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” in the han­dling of the case that it did not specify.

A eu­phoric Lopez briefly greeted a few dozen sup­port­ers gath­ered out­side his home in Caracas in the af­ter­noon.

Climb­ing atop a wall dressed in a white shirt, he clutched and kissed a Venezue­lan flag and raised his right fist in a show of de­fi­ance.

Lopez vowed that he’s pre­pared to re­turn to jail rather than give up his fight to re­move Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

“This is a step in the march to­ward free­dom,” Lopez said in a state­ment read by close ally and law­maker Freddy Gue­vara.

“I carry no re­sent­ment, nor will I give up my be­liefs. My po­si­tion against this regime is firm as are my con­vic­tions to fight for a real peace, co­ex­is­tence, change and free­dom.”

As his back­ers cel­e­brated, rel­a­tives of dozens of other jailed ac­tivists gath­ered at a Caracas jail in hopes that their loved ones might be re­leased too in the com­ing hours.

Spec­u­la­tion that Lopez’s trans­fer may have been part of a larger deal was sparked in part by a gov­ern­ment truth com­mis­sion state­ment say­ing that as part of its work to defuse ten­sions, it had asked the ju­di­cial sys­tem to eval­u­ate ap­ply­ing “al­ter­na­tive for­mu­las” for those im­pris­oned for vi­o­lent acts.

The op­po­si­tion has been de­mand­ing the re­lease of dozens of ac­tivists it con­sider po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in order to ini­ti­ate talks aimed at re­solv­ing a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has left more than 90 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds in­jured. But Lopez, the most prom­i­nent and de­fi­ant of those be­hind bars, was seen as the last per­son likely to leave jail in the event of any gov­ern­ment con­ces­sions.

The 46-year-old for­mer Caracas-area mayor was sen­tenced in 2015 to nearly 14 years in prison for in­cit­ing vi­o­lence dur­ing antigov­ern­ment protests in which three peo­ple died and dozens were wounded.

“We spoke for like 40 min­utes. He’s hug­ging his chil­dren, he’s with his wife. .... I’m sure they are cel­e­brat­ing,” Lopez’s fa­ther, who shares his son’s name, said from ex­ile in Spain.

He said in re­cent days Lopez had been iso­lated in his prison cell without food and at­trib­uted his son’s trans­fer to the con­sid­er­able in­ter­na­tional pressure on Maduro’s gov­ern­ment.

“He told me him­self re­cently: ‘Dad, it’s al­ways dark­est right be­fore the break of dawn,’ ” he added.


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