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Venezuela clears trial for opposition figure ahead of Bachelet visit

Sinikka Tarvainen, DPA on

Published in News & Features

BOGOTA, Colombia -- A Venezuelan court has ordered that a case against key opposition figure Roberto Marrero move to trial, on the eve of the visit of U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who had criticized his imprisonment.

The court mandated that Marrero be kept in jail, despite the release of three other political prisoners shortly before the arrival of Bachelet, who is scheduled to be in Venezuela from Wednesday to Friday, the El Nacional daily and other media reported.

Bachelet's office as well as the United States, the Lima Group of American countries, the Organization of American States and the European Union have condemned the imprisonment of Marrero, an aide to opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Marrero was arrested in March on charges of heading a terrorist cell.

Venezuela meanwhile released opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro, who was detained in April after already having been jailed earlier for more than a year on treason charges. The Boston Group, a network of U.S. and Venezuelan legislators, announced Caro's release on Monday.

The authorities also released Melvin Farias and Junior Rojas, who had been in custody for 14 months after allegedly being implicated in a violent incident at a shopping center.

The two men, who the human rights group Foro Penal regards as political prisoners, have been reunited with their families, the group's president, Alfredo Romero, tweeted on Monday.

The subject of political prisoners was expected to be raised during Bachelet's visit. Venezuela held 715 political prisoners on June 16, according to Foro Penal.

The U.N. human rights chief is due to meet both Guaido and President Nicolas Maduro, whom the opposition is pressuring to resign.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meanwhile visited the port of Miami to send off the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which will tour Latin America and the Caribbean to support medical systems strained by the arrival of Venezuelan migrants.

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"In the coming months, the Comfort will make 14 ports of call in 13 partner nations, providing medical care to those that are suffering and especially the displaced people of Venezuela," Pence said at a news conference.

When asked about the possibility of granting Venezuelans temporary protected status -- a designation that would allow them to stay in the U.S. because of extraordinary circumstances in their home country -- Pence said there had been "discussions" about it at the White House.

"The objective of our administration is to see democracy and the rule of law restored in Venezuela so Venezuelans can go home to a free nation," he added.

Venezuela is experiencing a massive economic and political crisis under Maduro, who won a second term in an election boycotted by most of the opposition last year. In January, Guaido declared himself interim president and has been recognized by more than 50 countries.

One million people have left Venezuela since November, according to U.N. agencies.

The latest increase has brought the total number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees abroad to 4 million, up from 695,000 in late 2015, when the opposition's election victory set the stage for an intensifying conflict with Maduro.

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