Venezuela Releases Political Prisoner Edgar Zambrano
Key Venezuelan opposition leader Edgar Zambrano was released on Wednesday, September 18. Zambrano, a 64-year-old lawyer and politician, was arrested for treason after a failed uprising against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in May of this year.
Zambrano has served as the deputy of National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó since January. Guaidó declared himself interim president after asserting that Maduro’s January re-election was fraudulent. Guaidó’s legitimacy has been recognized by more than 50 countries around the world, including the United States and Canada. Russia, on the other hand, has steadfastly supported Maduro.
Guaidó attempted to garner military support against Maduro by speaking at an air force base in Caracas on April 30. After Zambrano was seen beside Guaidó in video footage from that day, he was accused of treason. Eight days later, on May 9, Venezuelan authorities arrested Zambrano while he was leaving his party’s headquarters.
Zambrano’s release is contingent upon an agreement made between the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and Guaidó’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable. As of now, he is expected to appear before the court every 30 days and is not allowed to leave the country.
Both Zambrano and Guaidó spoke out against the Venezuelan government shortly after the release. “I call for and demand the release of political prisoners, civilian and military. I demand democracy for my country," asserted Zambrano, who described his May arrest as a “kidnapping.” Although Zambrano has been freed, hundreds more remain imprisoned. Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal reports that there are still 478 political prisoners in Venezuela.
Guaidó celebrated on Twitter, saying "[t]he liberation of Zambrano and political prisoners is a victory of citizen and international pressure, and the Bachelet report - not a 'kind gesture' from the dictatorship." He concluded his tweet by emphasizing “Freedom for Venezuela,” a message he has continuously repeated since January.
The future of Venezuela’s leadership remains to be determined. The same day Zambrano was released, the opposition-controlled National Assembly voted to reaffirm Guaidó’s presidency. The National Assembly gave the 36-year-old its “unrestricted political support” until the end of Maduro’s rule. Maduro does not have total control over the National Assembly, which means other parties can contribute to parliamentary decisions. He does, however, retain power over the military.
Instability in Venezuela continues to drive a critical humanitarian crisis, with economic, social, and institutional collapse taking a large toll over the once-prosperous country. With four million refugees and migrants fleeing their homes, the United Nations estimates that there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees by the end of 2019.