After a marathon parliamentary session, the National Assembly passed the Amnesty and National Reconciliation Law last night, which grants amnesty to political prisoners in the country. The law was drafted to target approximately 76 political prisoners held in prisons around the country today, most notably high-profile political figures like Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, and Manuel Rosales.
The passing of the law saw a war of words between opposition and PSUV deputies, with the latter claiming that the law would see murderers freed. At one point, PSUV deputy Dario Vivas commented that the law would free Leopoldo Lopez, who he considers a murderer.
MUD deputy Juan Guaido admonished Vivas in his response, saying:
Dario Vivas, you are a liar. That’s why you lost in La Guaira, because people don’t believe you. I have the charges against Leopoldo Lopez right here. Let me read them to you, Dario: “arson, causing damages, public intimidation”. The prosecutor’s office – which you [the PSUV] controls – did not charge him with murder. Here is Leopoldo Lopez’s speech in court, where he admitted to calling for that demonstration, to criticizing the Venezuelan government as anti-democratic, and admitted to wanting a better Venezuela.
At the law’s passing last night, MUD deputy Juan Guaido summed up for whom the law is meant:
This law will benefit young people and students who went out to protest for Venezuela with all of their heart [and] political leaders who demonstrated against the crisis. They’re in jail because [the government] is afraid of them, because they’re driving the change that you [the PSUV] are incapable of bringing about.
The law will now make its way to Maduro’s desk, where he will have the option of either approving it or sending it back to the legislature. If Maduro does not react to the law within 10 days, the National Assembly will have the power to approve it.
Convicted Murderers Excluded from Amnesty Law
Guaido also provided evidence that the law specifically blocks people convicted of murder from receiving amnesty. Guaido said:
Bassil da Costa’s murderer will not benefit from the Amnesty Law. Officer Jose Perdomo from the SEBIN will not benefit, because he is a murderer.
MUD Deputy Adriana Pichardo also criticized PSUV deputies for saying that the law would grant amnesty to people convicted of murder:
You [PSUV deputies] didn’t look over the cases of the 43 deaths [in the 2014 protests] because none of the political prisoners is accused of murder. Stop lying to the people. Stop saying that Leopoldo Lopez was accused of murder. That is a lie. None of the Venezuelan students [in prison] is accused of murder. In fact, answer us this: How could you send two young people from Aragua state – Alexander Tirado and Raul Emilio Baduel – to eight years in prison only for carrying a wooden cross and a megaphone? Stop lying. We are not giving amnesty to any drug trafficker, much less to someone committing real estate fraud… enough with this. The people don’t believe you.
MUD deputy Juan Andres Mejia also spoke, and pointed to the apparent hypocrisy in the PSUV deputies’ statements calling for justice for the victims of the 2014 protests:
The majority of the people who committed these acts [of violence] in 2014 are still free (…) Bassil [da Costa] was murdered by a SEBIN [officer]. Who’s the SEBIN? The government. Rosa Orozco is here today – she is Geraldine Moreno’s mother. She lost her daughter in 2014 after she was shot in the face [by] the National Guard, and Rosa has forgiven the [officer] who did it. But her forgiveness does not mean that she does not want justice: she is here and she supports this law because she wants justice.
Torrealba: Amnesty Law Will Benefit All
The head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, Jesus Torrealba, said today that the Amnesty and National Reconciliation law will end up benefiting all Venezuelans, since its goal is to heal the deep political wounds from which the country suffers.
The Amnesty Law will benefit the whole country, because a divided nation cannot move forward.
Deputy Points Out PSUV-Amnesty Links
National Assembly MUD deputy Edgar Zambrano, who presides over the Security and Defense Commission, pointed out shortly after the Amnesty Law was passed that Hugo Chavez, along with other notable PSUV figures, were themselves beneficiaries of amnesty for crimes they committed.
Chavez, who commanded a failed coup d’etat in 1992 against the democratically elected government of the time, was arrested and sent to the Yare prison. Two years later, President Rafael Caldera – having recently won the presidential election – granted Chavez a pardon, absolving him of his crimes and launching his political career.
Moreover, Chavez himself decreed an Amnesty Law in 2007 over the events of the failed coup d’etat against his government in 2002.
Zambrano also said that despite that the PSUV says, the Amnesty Law does not seek to see terrorists, murderers and drug traffickers freed. Instead:
This law [was passed] to exonerate political crimes committed through political acts.
PSUV Deputy: Amnesty Law is “Aberration”
The head of the PSUV bloc at the National Assembly, Hector Rodriguez, called the Amnesty Law a “judicial and political aberration”, and that it “violates the constitution, human rights and international treaties”.
Rodriguez spoke to VTV reporters earlier today, and also said:
We cannot apply a law that defends the corrupt, that defends terrorists, fraudsters, and murderers. Moreover, this is a law that hasn’t even adhered to the minimum legal processes in order to be activated.
Rodriguez also said that the MUD has proven itself to be “useless” at leading the National Assembly for the benefit of Venezuelans, choosing instead to “fight for its murderers” to be released from jail.
Maduro: I Will Veto Amnesty Law
Speaking from the Miraflores Palace last night, Maduro said that he would veto the Amnesty Law whenever it came to his desk.
While Maduro spoke before the National Assembly voted on the law, he anticipated its passing and said:
They [the private media] won’t air this [his opposition to the law], because they’ve got the headlines ready for tomorrow: “Criminal Law Approved”. They’re approving it at the National Assembly today. They gave me a fast track [sic] from one day to the next, and they gave me a law to protect murderers, criminals, drug traffickers, and terrorists. That’s the truth. You can be sure that that law won’t pass through me, sir. Let the national and international right wing know that. Laws that grant amnesty to terrorists and criminals won’t pass. They won’t pass through here, no matter what they do.
Maduro Calls on Supporters to Oppose Law
Speaking at an event earlier today, Maduro called on his supporters to “fight” against the law:
The criminal law that [Henry] Ramos Allup approved at the National Assembly will free those who have committed acts of terrorism, drug trafficking, conspiracy. Will we let them out onto the streets? Well, I say that the people should fight.
Maduro also called for a debate on the law, calling it “wholly unconstitutional”.
NGO: Maduro Doesn’t Have Veto Power
Robiro Teran from the Foro Penal Venezolano [Venezuelan Penal Forum] (FPV) stressed today that the Venezuelan political system does not grant the President of the Republic hard veto powers, meaning that Maduro cannot block the Amnesty Law from coming into effect.
Teran pointed out that once the law is sent to the President’s desk for approval, the President can choose to either approve it or send it back to the National Assembly. Ultimately, the National Assembly and the National Assembly alone has the power to approve the law, which would render it in full force and effect.
Our Constitution states that the National Assembly has the power to declare this law [in effect] once it is approved and put en gaceta [officially published]. [Then] it will go into the judicial realm where the tribunals will do their job. Depending on what they do, we might have to go to international [courts].
Teran appeared to be flagging the possibility that Venezuela’s top court – the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia – will simply declare the law null.
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