Venezuela ex-general Baduel, former Chavez ally, granted parole

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 13, 2015 11:29 AM

CARACAS (Reuters) - A Venezuelan military court granted parole to former general Raul Baduel, who was key in the rescue of Hugo Chavez from a coup in 2002 but later broke ranks with the late leader's socialist government, his lawyer said.

Baduel began campaigning against Chavez's attempts to scrap term limits in 2007, and was arrested on corruption charges two years later. He was serving an eight-year sentence for illicit enrichment while Defense Minister, accusations he deemed politically motivated.

International pressure has been growing on Maduro to free jailed politicians whom the opposition says are being punished for protesting corruption, authoritarian behavior and a deep economic crisis. Maduro says they are dangerous saboteurs seeking to subvert his two-year administration.

Baduel was freed around midnight on Wednesday from the Ramo Verde military prison, about 40 km from capital Caracas, said his lawyer Omar Mora.

"Conditional liberty was one of the alternative measures his defense had reiteratively sought," said Mora, quoted by the MUD umbrella opposition coalition's web site. "Thank God justice is starting to be done, given General Baduel should never have been detained."

The move follow's Tuesday's decision to grant house arrest to Daniel Ceballos, a jailed former mayor of the pro-opposition city of San Cristobal.

"Giving Ceballos home incarceration and Baduel parole are positive gestures the government is making that can dampen some criticism," said David Smilde, a sociologist with Tulane University.

"Of course the elephant in the room is the incarceration of Leopoldo Lopez but the government does not appear willing to cede on that point for the time being."

Lopez, jailed last year on charges of fomenting violent street protests against Nicolas Maduro's government, is the most high-profile opposition leader in prison.

U.S. officials have pressed the OPEC country to release the imprisoned activists during high-level diplomatic talks, a U.S. official told Reuters.

"I suspect this has to do, in a broad sense, with the warming relationship with the U.S.," said Smilde.

Baduel is banned from speaking to press and has to check in with the tribunal every 30 days, his lawyer added.

After turning on "Chavismo," Baduel became a figurehead for the opposition. Chavez, godfather to the youngest of Baduel's eleven children, called him a traitor.

Baduel's son Raul Emilio was also sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in last year's protests.

His daughter Rayrin tweeted videos of a smiling Baduel hugging his children after being freed.

(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Hay)