Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a political prisoner who has been in prison for 35 years for having plotted against the U.S. government in his struggle for Puerto Rican independence.
While Rivera’s release is already being hailed as a victory for human rights, the news places Maduro in an embarrassing corner.
On January 4 of 2015, Maduro gave a speech in which he discussed the Rivera case alongside that of Leopoldo Lopez, arguably Venezuela’s most famous political prisoner. By that point, Lopez had already been in prison for nearly a year in the Ramo Verde military facility near Caracas, but he would not be formally sentenced until September of that year.
During that speech, Maduro promised to release Lopez on only one condition: if President Obama were to release Oscar Lopez Rivera. The comment was far from a passing one, since Maduro took care to very clearly spell out the scenario.
Maduro’s promise was brought back to life by a journalist named Elyangelica Gonzalez, who tweeted a clip of Maduro making the comments two years ago. Below, the video along with my translation:
Maduro: … because then the right-wing writers start going, “no, the only way that we can improve relations is if we release el monstruo de Ramo Verde [literally, “The Monster of Ramo Verde”, Maduro’s nickname for Lopez].
What I’m saying is that the only way that I would use my presidential powers to release him [Lopez] is if I could put him on an airplane and send him to the United States so that they would send us Oscar Lopez Rivera. Pelo a pelo [literally, “hair for hair”, akin to “tit-for-tat”]. That’s the only way. Hand over Oscar Lopez Rivera. That’s the only way. That’s the only way that I can think of that would cause me to use my presidential powers to release the Monster of Ramo Verde.
The rest is a Venezuelan matter, a matter of Venezuelan justice, of Venezuelan life….
At the time, Maduro’s comment drew widespread criticism and ridicule for its bizarre nature, including from the United States Department of State.
Maduro: I Was Joking
Maduro was quick to react to opposition calls for him to make good on his promise to free Lopez. Earlier today, Maduro said that there was actually no comparison between Oscar Lopez River and Leopoldo Lopez. He explained:
There is no comparison with the Venezuelan politician, Leopoldo Lopez, because the Puerto Rican [Oscar Lopez Rivera] didn’t burn anything or kill anyone.
Lopez’s trial was universally condemned by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as a political witch hunt that was not grounded on reality. While Lopez was initially accused of murder, the government quickly withdrew those charges.
Maduro continued to defend himself by saying:
The joke about the exchange for the release of Leopoldo Lopez and Oscar Lopez Rivera cannot take place because the leader of Voluntad Popular [VP, Lopez’s party] is in the hands of Venezuelan justice and this, along with the truth commission, are the ones who decide.
Maduro Appoints Putin Peace Prize
Maduro announced today that he was awarding the Hugo Chavez a la Paz y Soberania de los Pueblos award [Hugo Chavez Award for Peace and People’s Sovereignty] to Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling him “the world leader in peace”.
During his announcement, Maduro said:
We in Venezuela recognize Vladimir Putin as (…) the leader of the multicentered, multipolar world, who has a great strategic vision.
Maduro also said that Hugo Chavez “cared profoundly” for Putin.
Video Shows Group of People Swarming Pile of Garbage Looking for Food
A video shared on Twitter by a user named @vladimirpetit at least a dozen individuals rummaging through a pile of garbage on the street, presumably looking for food scraps to eat. The video was recorded by a woman from what appears to be her apartment window. The video appears to have been recorded in the Los Palos Grandes area of Caracas.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Woman: This isn’t a story that someone told me – I saw it myself from my own home in Los Palos Grandes.
Venezuela is currently undergoing what is arguably the most severe economic crisis of the modern era, and the sight of people eating out of garbage bags and cans has become increasingly common in Caracas.
Regime Arrested 2,732 For Political Reasons in 2016
The Foro Penal Venezolano (FPV), an NGO that tracks crime and justice statistics, revealed today that the Maduro regime had made a total of 2,732 politically-motivated arrests in 2016. The figure comes from a year-end review compiled by the NGO, and points out that the arrests that it tracked last year involved a number of events, including peaceful protests.
The document also claims that at least one individual was arrested for writing an anti-regime tweet.
The full document can be found here, in Spanish.
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