A defense minister-cum-government critic has been granted early release from jail in Venezuela. General Raul Isaias Baduel has become the second prominent opposition leader to be freed in little more than 24 hours.
A tribunal granted retired General Raul Isaias Baduel parole after he completed six years of a seven-year, 11-month sentence on corruption charges. Baduel's release comes a day after former San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos was granted house arrest on medical grounds while awaiting trial for inciting violence during anti-government protests.
"At this moment, I am in Ramo Verde to meet him," Baduel's lawyer, Omar Mora Tosta, told the Spanish news agency EFE. "He has received a measure of conditional liberty."
Baduel served with Chavez as an army cadet in the 1970s and helped restore the commandant to power following a 2002 coup. He led the army from 2004 to 2006 before serving as defense minister from 2006. He broke with his longtime friend in 2007, likening a referendum granting Chavez more power to a virtual coup.
In 2009, authorities arrested Baduel on corruption charges that he says are a punishment for defecting from Chavez's inner circle to Venezuela's opposition. Baduel then took up enforced residence at a military prison outside the capital, Caracas, imprisoned alongside Venezuela's most-recognized jailed opponent, Leopoldo Lopez.
The general's son, Raul Emilio Baduel, was arrested in 2014, accused of leading protests. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in March.
Chavez died of cancer in 2013.
'A big step'
The surprise releases of Baduel and former Mayor Ceballos could signal greater leniency on the part of President Nicolas Maduro. His administration has come under fire from the United States over the imprisonment of about 50 anti-government activists on what human rights groups say are trumped-up charges intended to silence dissent. US officials have made the release of political prisoners a condition of normalizing diplomatic relations between the frequently antagonistic countries.
Ceballos said his release could mean "that all political prisoners might be reunited with their families." The 31-year-old faces trial on charges of civil rebellion and had gone on hunger strike with Baduel and former Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez in June to demand that the government release its opponents and set a date for legislative elections.
"This is a big step, but we will not rest," Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, his wife and the current mayor of San Cristobal, said at a press conference on Wednesday. "We demand the full liberty of Daniel Ceballos." She added: "Soon, we will not just achieve the liberty of Daniel and Leopoldo - but an entire country."
Ceballos stands accused of instigating protests while serving as mayor of San Cristobal. Authorities relieved him of his office and his liberty on March 19, 2014.
He received news of his release Tuesday and was transported by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service to his home in Caracas to await his trial under house arrest, which prohibits him from speaking publicly, using social media and engaging in political activity. However, media were able to tweet a picture of his reunion with his family:
Authorities have also released a handful of other political prisoners, none of whom have the star power of Baduel, Ceballos or the still-incarcerated Lopez. Authorities released Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma to house arrest for health reasons in April.
mkg/kms (EFE, dpa, AP)