POLITICS

Venezuelan president would send jailed opposition leader to U.S. in exchange for Puerto Rican radical

Left: In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez gives a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) Right: Oscar Lopez Rivera. (Associated Press)

Left: In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez gives a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) Right: Oscar Lopez Rivera. (Associated Press)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he would happily free jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, with one condition: the U.S. must free a Puerto Rican nationalist currently being held in a U.S. prison.

Maduro announced the unusual proposal in a televised meeting of advisors on Sunday. Responding to critics who charged that the only way there would only be improved relations with the United States was if López was released from prison, Maduro said he would do so in a "man-for-man" exchange for Oscar López Rivera.

"The only way that I would use the presidential power I have to liberate the 'Monster of Ramo Verde' would be to put him on a plane headed to the United States, to leave him there, and have them bring me Oscar López Rivera. Hair for hair, man for man."

Some observers see Maduro's offer as the logical result of the Obama administration's recent agreement with Venezuela's regional ally, Cuba, that freed an American contractor imprisoned on the island, three members of the "Cuban Five" spies who were being held in U.S. prisons, as well the unconfirmed releases of an American mole in Havana believed to be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo and 53 Cuban dissidents.

López, a Harvard-educated economist who was one of the leaders of the Voluntad Popular ("Popular Will") party, was arrested in February 2014 after helping to spark three months of violent demonstrations against Maduro's administration. Dozens of people died in the street violence, and thousands were arrested.

López Rivera, now 71, was one of the leaders of the clandestine radical pro-independence group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN).

In 1981, he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for seditious conspiracy, along with associated charges, for his part in running what federal authorities described as a "a series of safe-houses and bomb factories across the country, the searches of which have uncovered literally hundreds of pounds of dynamite and other forms of high explosive, blasting caps, timing devices, huge caches of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition, silencers, sawed-off shotguns, disguises, stolen and altered identity documents, and the proceeds of the armed robberies of locations such as a National Guard Armory, Chicago's Carter-Mondale Re-Election headquarters, radio and communications companies, as well as a variety of stolen vehicles."

In 1988, then-President Bill Clinton offered clemency to 14 FALN members, including López Rivera, with the condition that he renounce the use of terrorism. 

López Rivera did not accept. He is still imprisoned in a federal correctional facility Terre Haute, Indiana.

In recent years, the calls for López Rivera's release have grown with activists and prominent people as diverse as boxing champ Miguel Cotto, Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla, pop star Ricky Martin and Uruguayan president José Mujica all asking the U.S. government to free him.

According to a Christmas Eve report on Venezuela's Telesur media outlet, a relative of López Rivera living in Uruguay posted on her Facebook account a note saying that members of that country's government had informed her that negotiations for his release were far along and that his release was imminent.

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