Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Amnesty in Venezuela

The Venezuelan National Assembly passed an amnesty law intended to release people like Leopoldo López.

Amnesties have a long history in Latin American politics. Time and again they've been used to "resolve" political crises. They can be self-protective for dictatorships or mostly authoritarian governments (Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay), defensive against military confrontation (Argentina), or intended to help end civil war (El Salvador). I put "resolve" in quotations because amnesties may help to push forward some sort of short-term political solution but they leave unresolved questions that fester for decades. Those who craft amnesties basically hope that wiping the slate clean can mean setting the past aside and moving ahead. It's never that easy.

For the most part, amnesties are seen negatively because they thwart efforts to hold people accountable. There is a very strong push to get amnesties out of the way so that prosecutions can take place. But typically those being held accountable were part of the state, which was inflicting violence on its own citizens. Venezuela is a different case because the state is claiming it is holding people like López accountable.

So it's an odd case. Amnesties are sledgehammers, which bash aside the facts. In the case of López, however, the government's case is weak and the judicial system corrupt. From Amnesty International:

In September, Leopoldo López, a prisoner of conscience and leader of the opposition Popular Will party, was convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime, incitement, arson and causing damage to public property during the 2014 protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison. There was no credible evidence to support the charges and public statements made before his conviction by the authorities; the President called for his imprisonment, thus seriously undermining his right to a fair trial.

If the state locks people up for political reasons, then perhaps an amnesty is the only real option in this particular context.


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