Prominent ex-police official freed in Venezuela

AP News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2011 6:26 PM
Prominent ex-police official freed in Venezuela

A former deputy police chief was freed Thursday after spending nearly seven years in prison, following President Hugo Chavez's call for clemency for prisoners with health problems.

Former deputy Caracas police chief Lazaro Forero had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for complicity in the killings of pro-government demonstrators during protests in 2002.

He has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Supreme Court president Luisa Estella Morales said he was freed on parole for humanitarian reasons. Forero's release followed that of another government opponent, Alejandro Pena Esclusa, who also needs cancer treatment.

Chavez on Saturday urged the courts and prosecutors to allow parole or house arrest for inmates with serious ailments. He made the appeal shortly before traveling to Cuba for his own cancer treatment and after prisoners' relative urged the president to intervene.

Prosecutors promptly took up Chavez's request. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz told state radio on Thursday that courts have handed down orders to free 44 inmates so far for humanitarian reasons.

Forero is one of three former police chiefs who were sentenced to 30-year prison terms in 2009 for their alleged roles in killings during a protest march that preceded a short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez. They say they are innocent, and Venezuela's political opposition has described the former police officials as being among a larger group of "political prisoners."

The government and prosecutors insist the men were properly sentenced for serious crimes, along with six other former police officers who have been sentenced for their roles in the 2002 violence.

Forero was driven away in a sport-utility vehicle after leaving the headquarters of the intelligence agency where he was imprisoned.

Yajaira de Forero, the former police official's wife, said he will be allowed to live at home and undergo cancer treatment but is required to appear regularly in court.

She told the Venezuelan television channel Globovision that her husband was not entirely pleased by the circumstances of his release.

"It's a very high price he's had to pay for this freedom," she said. "They're freeing him because he has prostate cancer. If not, he'd remain there."