Families are grieving after Venezuela failed to release political prisoners by the end of November, despite promising to do so as part of a deal with the Biden administration, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The Biden administration made a deal with Venezuela in October to provide oil sanctions relief if President Nicolas Maduro’s regime holds fair and democratic elections next year and releases roughly 300 political prisoners, including three Americans, according to the Post. The Nov. 30 deadline to release the prisoners, however, passed without Venezuela taking any action.

Wendelin Pena, the mother of 24-year-old John Alvarez, told the Post that she was hopeful her son would soon be released. Alvarez was charged with terrorism and conspiracy after he was arrested in August for allegedly posting treasonous flierswhich his mother denies he did.

“The Alvarez Pena family believes in the magic of Christmas and in miracles,” Pena wept, according to the Post. “We believe John will come back home. We believe President Joe Biden and the international community can make this miracle come true.”

Alvarez is currently in prison and has suffered beatings and electroshock torture, resulting in partial vision loss and kidney damage, his attorney and mother told the Post. His mother prayed for her son’s release at a Christmas festival in Caracas on Friday, which included a large table adorned with decorations and empty chairs with the names of Venezuela’s political prisoners.

“Christmas is such an important and significant celebration in Venezuela, so we’re calling for a holiday without political prisoners, for their empty seats to be filled,” Victor Navarro, an activist and former political prisoner, told the Post.

Melania Benitez’s sister, Emirlendris, was arrested in August 2018 on terrorism charges, according to the Post. She was arrested after she was accompanying her boyfriend, a taxi driver, on a trip carrying passengers who were accused of trying to assassinate Maduro with a drone.

“Her only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time – I mean, she didn’t even know what a drone was,” Martha Tineo, a human rights lawyer, told the Post. “But that’s how 98 percent of these cases are. Even though we call them political prisoners, only 2 percent are actually politicians.”

Benitez was suffocated with plastic bags and beaten to a point where she is now forced to use a wheelchair and her face is deformed, her sister told the Post. She was pregnant at the time she was arrested and was reportedly forced to have an abortion.

“We can’t stop advocating for these people, because the worst thing that can happen to a political prisoner is to be forgotten,” Antony Vegas, a former political prisoner, told the Post.

In addition to refusing to release its political prisoners, Venezuela has failed to follow through on aspects of the deal it brokered with the Biden administration. Maduro promised the Biden administration he would hold free and fair elections next year, but froze the results of his top political opponent’s primary election results and issued arrest warrants for three of her campaign staff, according to the Post.

The Biden administration has not reimposed sanctions, despite Venezuela’s blatant disregard for the terms of the deal, the Post reported.

“Simply put, the U.S. looks weak,” Enderson Sequera, a Venezuela political analyst, told the Post. “Since the agreement’s conditions were blatantly violated by Maduro, it just comes to show that the Biden administration is more concerned with having a more favorable election outlook in 2024 than it is in Venezuelan democracy and the release of political prisoners.”

“These actions are unacceptable. If not reversed immediately, the United States will take necessary actions to reimpose sanctions,” a State Department spokesperson told the Post.

Jake Smith on December 13, 2023
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