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Clemency for Puerto Rican nationalist raises question about jailed Venezuelan politician

People celebrate after learning that President Barack Obama commuted the sentence for Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. Many Puerto Ricans have long demanded his release.
People celebrate after learning that President Barack Obama commuted the sentence for Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. Many Puerto Ricans have long demanded his release. AP

In 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made a deal he probably doesn’t want to keep: He said he might free jailed political activist Leopoldo López if the United States would free Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted López Rivera’s 55-year sentence, and he’ll be released in May.

Maduro “should keep his word and release Leopoldo López,” Juan Carlos Gutierrez, the jailed Venezuelan’s lawyer, told Unión Radio in Caracas on Wednesday. “That freedom should come with a court ruling that declares him innocent, and he should be freed.”

Leopoldo López was jailed in the wake of national protests in 2014 that left more than 43 dead on both sides of the political divide. The Venezuelan government blames the popular leader and former presidential candidate for instigating the violence, even as human rights groups and his proponents called his judicial process a sham.

In 1981, López Rivera was sentenced to 55 years for his role in the Puerto Rican independence group the Armed Forces of National Liberation, which claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at public and commercial buildings during the 1970s and ’80s in New York, Chicago and Washington. He was convicted on one count of seditious conspiracy, and he was later convicted of conspiring to escape from prison.

Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, often hailed López Rivera, 74, as an independence hero and railed against his incarceration. In January 2015, amid calls by the U.S. to release Leopoldo López, Maduro said the only way he would consider it was if there was a “man-for-man” exchange with the Puerto Rican prisoner.

It’s unlikely that Maduro will make good on the deal. Facing an economic collapse and growing political pressure, his socialist administration has stepped up the detention of opponents, even as it has let others free.

Maduro isn’t the only one who has a pardon promise to keep. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for five years, has said he would agree to be extradited if Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning, who has been serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information. On Tuesday, Obama did just that, reducing her sentence to time served.

Associated Press content was used in this report.

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