Cancer-stricken Chavez softens on opposition prisoners

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.

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