Venezuela President Maduro vows to free jailed opposition activists

Venezuela’s newly re-elected President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday pledged to release some jailed opposition activists, boost the OPEC member’s tanking oil production and open dialogue with business leaders.

He gave little in the way of specifics and some of the promises were repetitions of previous vows that have not come to pass.

On Sunday Maduro won an election that critics at home and abroad condemned as a farce cementing his autocracy, at a time when the oil-rich nation is suffering from increasingly dire food shortages, health crises, and mass emigration.

Opposition politicians have said it is unlikely that he will make significant changes to the crumbling state-led economic model inherited from his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

Presenting his credentials at the pro-government Constituent Assembly on Thursday, Maduro said those opposition activists jailed during massive anti-government protests but who have not committed "serious crimes" should be released.

Earlier on Thursday, a prominent human rights group, Penal Forum, said 15 senior military officials were jailed around the time of the vote, adding to scores of other arrested in what critics call a purge of the armed forces.

Profile | Nicolás Maduro

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, also promised to increase Venezuela’s oil production, currently at over 30 year lows, by 1 million barrels-per-day this year, but gave no details.

He instructed Major General Manuel Quevedo, the president of state oil company PDVSA, to reach out to OPEC, allies China and Russia, and Arab nations for help if needed.

Maduro said opponents were wrong to blame him for the country’s economic crisis. He dismissed criticism of his re-election as a US-led plan to sabotage him, highlighting recent U.S. sanctions he said would cause "great difficulties."

Venezuelan exiles take part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro in Miami, FloridaCredit:

Maduro’s opponents say he is a reckless autocrat who has no real plan to revive Venezuela’s shambolic economy, raising the risks of more malnutrition and a full-blown refugee crisis.

"No matter what they try now, this revolutionary boat has already sunk because the people have abandoned them. After so much hunger and misery, only a change of model can free us from this tragedy," tweeted opposition lawmaker Marialbert Barrios.

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