The Maduro regime’s announcement of conditional dismissal of criminal charges against roughly one-third of the political prisoners it holds does not solve, nor even address, Venezuela’s 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.
For those prisoners who were released, returning home is a day to celebrate. The United States joins in respect and admiration for these patriots and for the sacrifices they have made to free their country.
Still, the condition of democracy in Venezuela remains dire. These dismissals of charges are conditional, with officials threatening to rescind the benefit if any individuals “return to any act of terrorism, violence, or coup-mongering,” as arbitrarily determined by the regime. Among those still threatened, harassed, and indicted by the regime are Venezuelan leaders like Juan Guaido, Leopoldo Lopez, and Julio Borges, as well as Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Carlos Vecchio, and many other fighters for Venezuelan democracy. Moreover, no prominent imprisoned chavista or trade union leaders were included; nor any members of the military, despite their disproportionate numbers among political prisoners. Most exiled Venezuelan democratic political leaders will not be able to return, because they know they could be jailed instantly; there are zero guarantees for their safety. Charges against Deputy Juan Requesens were not dismissed, and he remains under house arrest. On the same day that Requesens was released, the mother of National Assembly Deputy Armando Armas was arbitrarily detained, reminding us that the regime maintains a revolving door of incarceration and intimidation to extort participation in Maduro’s December 6 electoral farce.
Conditions for free and fair elections do not exist in Venezuela and the release of a number of political prisoners does not change that. None of the political parties whose leadership was removed and their names, symbols, and assets stolen by the regime have been restored, including parties from the left that challenge the regime’s control of Chavez’s political legacy. Many political opponents of the regime are still prohibited from running for office and remain without political rights. The illegally appointed National Electoral Commission (CNE) remains under tight regime control, a fact that will become critical because complex registration processes are in its hands. Freedom of the press does not exist. Freedom of expression does not exist. Freedom of assembly does not exist. These minimum conditions to receive a credible international electoral observation mission remain absent.
We urge all democratic actors, both within and outside of Venezuela, to continue to insist on the necessary, internationally accepted conditions for free and fair elections. We, and our democratic partners in Venezuela and the international community, will not contribute to legitimizing yet another electoral fraud carried out by the Maduro regime. Venezuelan citizens deserve our continuing solidarity in their struggle to restore democracy to their country.