Venezuelan President Guaidó Floats Amnesty for Maduro, Top Socialist Officials

The president of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly, Juan Guaido, listens during a session to denounce as 'illegitimate' President Nicolas Maduro's second mandate, among other topics, at the Federal Legislative Palace in Caracas on January 15, 2019. - Maduro began a new term on January 10 with the economy in ruins …

Interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó suggested on Thursday that the nation’s opposition is open to discussing granting prosecutorial amnesty to dictator Nicolás Maduro and top officials, such as drug traffickers Diosdado Cabello and Tareck El Aissami, despite their flagrant record of years of human rights abuses.

Guaidó made the remark in his first interview since being sworn into the office of the presidency on Wednesday during nationwide protests against Maduro’s socialist regime, speaking to Univisión’s Patricia Janiot. Guaidó also provided in that interview the first estimates of crowd sizes at Wednesday’s massive protests; the opposition estimates that between seven and eight million people nationwide turned out to call for an end to the Maduro regime.

Guaidó, previously the president of the National Assembly, rose to prominence rapidly this month despite being a founding member of Popular Will, the socialist opposition party led by political prisoner Leopoldo López. The interview served as an introduction to Guaidó for much of the world, particularly in Latin America, where most nations have accepted him, and not Maduro, as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.

Articles 333 and 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution require the Venezuelan people to “fail to recognize any regime, legislation, or authority that contradicts the values, principles, and democratic guarantees [herein] or violates human rights.” The Venezuelan opposition contends that, given these unique provisions in their constitution, Maduro’s illegitimate occupation of power requires his expulsion and the creation of an interim government to organize free and fair elections.

Maduro has not budged from Miraflores, the presidential palace, and rejected calls to step aside because “some nobody inaugurated himself.” To avoid bloodshed, Guaidó told Janot that amnesty for Maduro and his top officials, as well as any soldier who wishes to disobey Maduro, is “on the table”:

While Guaidó has international support, the military continues to back Maduro, making it impossible for Guaidó to serve as commander in chief. Asked by Janiot what he believes needs to happen for the military to come around, Guaidó noted that the National Assembly has already approved “an amnesty law … to get them on the right side of the constitution.” The law would make it possible for the soldiers to avoid prosecution in the event that they participated in violence against unarmed protesters.

Janiot asked if that law would extend all the way up to Maduro, accused of serial human rights violations since taking office in 2013.

“We’d have to check that out,” Guaidó responded. “He is an official, a public official, a dictator responsible for the victims yesterday in Venezuela.” NGOs estimate that Venezuelan National Guard troops killed at least 18 unarmed protesters on Wednesday.

“There is a very clear responsibility on this,” the president noted. “[Yet] in transition periods, similar things have happened. It happened in Chile, it happened in Venezuela in 1958. We cannot discard any options, but we have to be firm towards the future.”

He added that amnesty “is on the table for all who are willing to be on the right side of the constitution, to restore the constitutional order.”

Guaidó concluded on the topic that amnesty does not mean “impunity. When we talk about amnesty, we don’t mean forgetting. We mean justice, social justice, addressing the [humanitarian] emergency.”

Venezuela is home to nearly 300 political prisoners and the regime has killed hundreds of people since opposition protests took shape in 2014. Those who have survived the regime’s most brutal prisons – El Helicoide, a former shopping mall, and The Tomb, a secret police torture chamber – say political prisoners are forced to endure classic torture techniques such as sleep deprivation, electroshock, and standing or sitting in confined spaces for hours. Other methods of torture include being forced to beat and torture other prisoners, rape, and crucifixion.

The use of any or all of these tactics would satisfy the requirements to charge Maduro with crimes against humanity, an international crime with universal jurisdiction, meaning any court in the world can try it.

Janiot also asked Guaidó about holding elections. Many on the far left, discarding Guaidó’s socialist credentials, have expressed concern that there is no timeline for establishing elections to ensure that the president of the country has a mandate from the people. Guaidó answered that his goal is to hold elections “as soon as possible,” but those elections must allow for members of Venezuela’s growing refugee community to participate, as well. In November, the United Nations documented the existence of three million Venezuelan refugees – most fleeing to Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador – noting that the number is growing rapidly as the average Venezuelan does not have the means to procure three meals a day.

Guaidó’s first act following his swearing-in was to request international humanitarian aid through the Organization of American States (OAS). American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that the United States would answer that request with a $20 million shipment of aid to the country. That aid reaching the Venezuelan people will depend on if Maduro chooses to use the military to intervene and attack the aid convoy; Maduro has rejected all offers of humanitarian aid, except from China, arguing that they could be used as Trojan horses for an “imperialist” invasion.

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