Waiting for Maduro
The busy Vice President is in charge of taking actions in regards to the amnesty of prisoners and exiled people because of political reasons. Will he make decisions this December 2012?
But once formality and the media are gone, he acknowledges the emotional shock that implies to see one, two, three and four men telling him with a broken voice that they want to return to their homes in Venezuela. And not with the intention to remake their lives, shattered by the exile. Returning home means to them: spending the last days of their lives with their families, at home in spite of having a disease. It may sound dramatic, but it is still their life circumstances at this time.
Zambrano is a leader of the group of political Acción Democrática party at the National Assembly (AN) and yet in the environment of political tension that tends to prevail in such field, he is regarded as even-tempered and someone open to respectful dialogue. That, perhaps, explains the positive advancement of his action undertaken shortly after taking the word of President Hugo Chávez, who made a call to "national dialogue" before and after the election of October 7.
"We have noticed that no concrete answer has been given in a month's time," Zambrano explains: "We were already working with some prisoners' relatives and then we came across the chance to make a proposal to the president in that sense, by starting from the fact that in order to initiate a national dialogue, it was imperative the treatment and release of prisoners and the return of the Venezuelans in exile."
By then, other projects were already on track. In February 2011, NGOs Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Criminal Forum), Víctimas Venezolanas de Violaciones de los Derechos Humanos (Venezuelan Victims of Human Rights Violation), Fuerza Integradora (Integrating Force), Nueva Consciencia Nacional (New National Conscience), and Frente Nacional de Abogados (National Front of Lawyers) submitted a Bill on Amnesty and Political Reconciliation to deputies of the opposition coalition. Lawyer Alfredo Romero also warned that similar projects had been presented to the AN in 2007 and 2009, this last one backed by the signatures of 19,000 Venezuelans.
Nevertheless, in order to get to this current point in which something positive is likely to happen, we had to wait until the very President Hugo Chávez offered some help.
"We had the chance to submit the Bill on Amnesty on the parliament initiative." And it was finally presented on November 6 of the current year.
The scenery clearly made us come to the realization that such project was not enough: "In order to assembly the whole project of dialogue, we requested a hearing with Venezuela's President for the purpose of exposing the cases of the prisoners, exiles and also the politically persecuted members of Parliament."
They asked for the hearing in Miraflores on November 8, and on Monday, November 12, they were called by Solicitor General Cilia Flores, who informed them that President Chávez had entrusted her and Vice President Nicolás Maduro with this matter; and also that they had had a meeting that same day at 5 pm in the Foreign Office.
"Our meeting lasted three hours and five minutes," Zambrano relates: "We dealt with some of the collected cases honestly, openly, and feeling much respect. Such meeting brought us the idea of making a census of exiled Venezuelans who had the intention to return to the country."
The table is set
The first focus was set then on some of the most emblematic citizens in exile because of political reasons, mostly focused on people linked with the April 11, 2002 event, the maintained protest which took place at Francia Square in Altamira, and figures involved in the civilian strike occurred in December and January 2003.
Such actions took them into a long journey: Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Spain and of course, Miami: "We organized and attended meetings in every place and then, we listened to the proposals made by those who wish to come back to Venezuela, both civilians and military officers."
In Peru, Zambrano had a talk with former Governor of Yaracuy state, Eduardo Lapi; with political director Oscar Pérez and with former labor union leader Carlos Ortega; whereas in Colombia, Zambrano had a conversation with Pedro Carmona Estanga; with some youngsters accused of the fire set at the facility of the National Lands Institute (INTI), based in Santa Bárbara in Zulia state, occurred on January 2011; with people pursued subsequent to the evictions performed from the houses provided by oil holding Pdvsa to employees of the same industry, back in 2003 in Falcón state, and also with Jesús Caldera Infante, former president of the Deposit Warranty and Banking Protection Fund (Fogade), accused of illegal administrative acts in 2010.
In Panama, they met up with former Governors of Zulia and Sucre states, Manuel Rosales and Ramón Martínez. In Costa Rica, they ran into a big group. They also found there former Governor Carlos Giménez, accused of corruption in 2009 in the Autonomous Institute for Development of Yaracuy state; Osnel Arnías, former mayor of José Laurencio Silva municipality in Falcón state; the former Magistrate Luis Velázquez Alvaray; General Enrique Medina Gómez, the Farías brothers –military officers who escaped from Ramo Verde Jail in company with Carlos Ortega-; General Néstor González González – accused of the offence of civilian rebellion-; Vice Admiral Héctor Pérez Ramírez; and some businessmen from the real estate and building sectors who label themselves as "politically persecuted people."
In Miami, there was a meeting with former employees from Pdvsa, in which remarkable figures like Juan Fernández, Edgar Quijano and Horacio Medina were present. And other people such as former Governor of Lara state, Mariano Navarro; editor Rafael Poleo, former President of the Federation of Trade and Industry Chambers (Fedecámaras), Carlos Fernández; Magistrate Gisela Parra, former mayor Alfredo Peña and collaborators of the Democratic Unified Panel (MUD) and businesspeople from the building and real estate field. In Madrid, the rendezvous was similar: former oil dealers, some military officers and contractors.
As a response to the variety of cases and situations, Zambrano and his team organized "modules" of information to present the cases to the National Executive: "This way they can count on the documentary files which allow them to make the appropriate decisions."
This includes prisoners with different conditions such as Iván Simonovis, María Lourdes Afiuni, Alejandro Peña Esclusa, Captain Otto Gebauer, Rolando and Otoniel Guevara; Raúl Isaías Baduel, police agents from the Metropolitan Police (PM), Marcos Hurtado, Arube Pérez, Héctor Rovain, Luis Enrique Molina, Julio Rodríguez and Erasmo Bolívar.
Zambrano claims that there are about 40 prisoners and 80 people in exile who accepted Zambrano's help to get them back to their homes: "Of course, not everyone who left are now wishing to return, but there is indeed a group, some of them seriously sick, who let us know their desire to return home, to see their family members again."
The project has been delayed because of President Chávez's medical condition, the recent election and the new and varied tasks assigned to Nicolás Maduro, who they hope to have a second meeting with. The remaining few days of December 2012 continue to look like a golden opportunity for gestures of goodwill, but it is unclear, if besides assigning this task to Maduro, President Chávez gave him a concrete order regarding this matter.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Why did Gerardo come to Caracas? One day he took the decision, handed the car keys to his father, gave him his share of the cloth business they both owned in San Cristóbal and kissed his wife and two sons goodbye. "He told us he was going to continue fighting for Venezuela," the wife says. That was in mid-2013. He has been imprisoned since May 8, 2014.