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Venezuela Frees Ex-Intelligence Chief Who Became Maduro Foe

Miguel Rodriguez Torres in 2017.Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

  • Miguel Rodriguez Torres had been jailed for five years
  • Spain’s ex-President Zapatero had lobbied for release

By Andreina Itriago Acosta / Bloomberg

Venezuela freed the former head of the government’s intelligence agency five years after he was arrested for allegedly instigating a rebellion against President Nicolas Maduro, according to people familiar with the matter.

Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a former major general in the army who fell out of Maduro’s favor, was set free Saturday morning and left the country for Spain where he plans to live in exile, according to the people who asked for anonymity because his family hadn’t publicly announced it.

Former Spanish President Jose Luis Zapatero, who had negotiated for the release for two years, was expected to travel with him, according to one of the people. Zapatero, who met with Maduro at the presidential palace in Caracas earlier this week, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Rodriguez Torres’s family released a statement Saturday afternoon confirming he had been released and adding that Colombian President Gustavo Petro, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, representatives of the Catholic Church and members of the government and opposition political parties also played a role.

“It hurts me to leave my country,” Rodriguez Torres said in a video released by a local outlet following his departure. “I’m sure I’ll be back.”

Freeing political prisoners is a top agenda item in the on-again, off-again negotiations that members of the Venezuelan opposition have been holding with the government. The opposition is pushing for the releases as one of the concession it hopes to win from Maduro in exchange for relief from US sanctions.

Last year, Maduro freed several American prisoners, including oil executives and a former Marine, in exchange for the release of two family members who were serving drug sentences in the US.

The government information ministry didn’t respond to questions seeking comment. The release of Rodriguez Torres was reported earlier Saturday by the Associated Press.

Rodriguez Torres becomes the highest ranking military officer to win freedom in years. He was an ally of late President Hugo Chavez who participated in the 1992 coup attempt and rose through the Chavista system to become director of the national intelligence agency.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, Rodriguez Torres served as Maduro’s Interior minister. But he grew disillusioned with Maduro’s leadership, eventually leading a group of dissidents that criticized the government. He was arrested in 2018 on the instigation charge, which he denied. He had been held in a military prison while awaiting trial ever since.

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