Caracas: A former Venezuelan defense minister turned staunch government critic has been freed from prison, making him the second prominent opposition leader to be let go in a little more than 24 hours.
A military tribunal granted retired Gen Raul Baduel parole after he completed six years of a nearly eight-year sentence on corruption charges, his lawyer Omar Tosta told The Associated Press yesterday.
A short video of Baduel embracing loved ones was tweeted by his daughter after he was discharged from the prison where he has been held alongside Venezuela's most-recognized jailed opponent, Leopoldo Lopez.
He left the hulking gray military prison outside Caracas around midnight, and returned to his home in the coastal city of Maracay.
"It was a huge surprise, a gift of life from God," said his wife, Cruz Maria Zambrano. She said her husband was overjoyed.
Baduel's release came just 24 hours after Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the restive western city of San Cristobal, was granted house arrest on medical grounds while awaiting trial for his alleged role in inciting violence during last year's anti-government protests.
Yesterday, officials released a 22-year-old activist who had been held on charges of inciting criminal behavior during the 2014 protests.
The surprise releases could signal a greater leniency on the part of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration, which has come under sharp criticism from the US over the imprisonment of some 75 anti-government activists on what human rights groups say are trumped-up charges meant to silence dissent.
Baduel drew close to Chavez in their days as army cadets in the 1970s, and with other loyalists, he helped restore the charismatic leftist to power following a brief 2002 coup. But he broke with his longtime friend in 2007, likening a referendum granting Chavez more power to a virtual coup.
In 2009, he was arrested on corruption charges that he says were invented to punish him for defecting from the cause. As part of his parole, Baduel will be required to present himself before a court every 30 days, and will be barred from speaking with reporters.