The government of President Nicolas Maduro has said the release of jailed activists is meant to foster dialogue. Opposition lawmakers have dismissed the move as a token gesture by a dictatorship.
The government of Venezuela began releasing a group of opposition activists on Friday, saying it wanted to promote dialogue with the demonstrators protesting against President Nicolas Maduro. Critics have disputed the move, saying it is an empty gesture made by a despot.
Some 39 activists were released, mostly from a group of more than 300 protesters who were jailed for leading anti-government marches in the streets of Venezuela's cities in 2014 and 2017. A total of 170 people died in the protests after demonstrators clashed with police.
After their release, the prisoners were set to meet with a Truth Commission set up by the government.
One of the more prominent prisoners to be freed is Daniel Ceballos, the ex-mayor of San Cristobal, who was accused of inciting violence during a series of anti-government demonstrations that broke out in 2014.
"The Truth Commission has made this recommendation at the request of President Nicolas Maduro," said Delcy Rodriguez, president of the Constituent Assembly, a new legislature created by Maduro to minimize the power of opposition lawmakers, according to his critics.
"He said that this is the path, the path of dialogue, the path of unity, the path of peace."
Maduro was recently re-elected to another six-year term in an election marred by widespread irregularities.
'Staging a political show'
The opposition-controlled National Assembly, the country's only legislature until Maduro created the Constituent Assembly last year, said the prisoners' release was little more than political farce.
"Right now the government is staging a political show with the release of prisoners, but in Venezuela all Venezuelans are prisoners," said legislator Tomas Guanipa.
"We are happy for the political prisoners who have been freed, but there are 30 million Venezuelans."
Venezuela is experiencing an acute financial and humanitarian crisis. The economic policies of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have led to hyperinflation and a lack of basic necessities like food and medicine. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that neighboring countries like Colombia have become overwhelmed by refugees fleeing Venezuela.
es/cmk (AFP, Reuters)