12/28/2012 10:33 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

This Holiday Season, Let's Remember Venezuela's Political Prisoners

There's a holiday tradition in Venezuela where the president pardons a group of prisoners as an act of generosity for Christmas. This year, as recently reelected President Hugo Chavez's cancer worsens, Vice President and acting President Nicolas Maduro has yet to act on this important tradition.

It has become increasingly clear to even the most skeptical observers that Hugo Chavez will not return to the presidency of Venezuela. Should he not return by January 10th, inauguration day, he would be constitutionally forced to step aside in favor of the President of the National Assembly, who would then need to call a snap election within thirty days. It is unclear who would run in this election for the opposition, but it would probably be Miranda's recently reelected governor Henrique Capriles Radonski. For the socialists, Chavez has named Nicolas Maduro as his successor but there is an increasingly bitter feud boiling over between him and the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello.

Lost in the power struggles exploding over control of the country are Venezuela's more than two-dozen political prisoners. It would be an act of good faith for acting President Nicolas Maduro to use his executive authority to pardon these people who have been incarcerated without due process and in violation of national and international laws. Many of them are in an increasingly precarious condition. It has recently been reported that judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, Venezuela's most well-known political prisoner, was allegedly raped and had an abortion during her time illegally behind bars. She has also suffered from cancer while under house arrest. Lazaro Forero, another political prisoner, has also been diagnosed with cancer; and Ivan Simonovis has suffered multiple health problems. All of these people deserve to be returned to their families.

As Venezuela heads into a very unstable 2013, the government will need all the goodwill that it can muster. If for no other reason, letting these prisoners go would win Maduro acclaim nationally and internationally and go a long way to demonstrate good faith to Venezuela's polarized society. But more importantly, it would simply be the right thing to do.