CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, humbled by a cancer that has upended the OPEC nation’s politics, has set clemency proceedings in motion for convicted opposition activists suffering from health problems. Chavez on Saturday called for humanitarian measures to help infirm opposition prisoners, which include three convicted of involvement in a coup against him.
The gesture has brought some hope his cancer will moderate his confrontational style even if it does little to bridge the divide between Chavez’s self-styled revolution and critics who call him an fledgling dictator.
But his apparent ability to free dozens of prisoners with a few words uttered in a live broadcast may revive criticisms that he controls the country’s justice system.
“Independent of who they are, their opinions, I dare to make a humanitarian request that they receive the medical treatment that they need,” Chavez said, in a live broadcast before leaving for Cuba to begin chemotherapy.
The attorney general and the nation’s top judge said on Tuesday they are considering the conditional release of 54 prisoners with serious illnesses.
Yesterday, a court ordered the release of Chavez critic Alejandro Pena, who was jailed on charges of terrorism and suffers from prostate cancer, according to local media.
Yajaira Castro, the wife of ex-police commissioner Lazaro Forero, who also has prostate cancer, said Chavez’s words prompted an immediate visit by a doctor following weeks of refusal by prison authorities to let him see an oncologist.
“The president has taken into consideration that just as he deserves medical attention and deserves to have his children at his side right now, so do the political prisoners,” said Castro. Forero was convicted for his role in a 2002 coup attempt.