Maduro Foe Joins Family In Spain After Fleeing Venezuela
FILE - In this May 2, 2019 file photo, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez smiles during a press conference at the gate of the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas, Venezuela. Lopez left the residence where he had been a guest since April 30, 2019 and is leaving Venezuela people close to the opposition leader said on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)
MEDELLIN, Colombia: After more than six years in confinement, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lpez is a free man and has been reunited with his family in Madrid.
Lpez arrived Sunday in the Spanish capital following what aides described as a whirlwind escape from the Spanish ambassadors residence in Caracas where he had been holed up since leading a failed U.S.-backed military putsch against Nicolas Maduro in April 2019.
Two people close to Lpez said he fled Venezuela by sea, arriving in the nearby Caribbean island of Aruba on Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they werent authorized to discuss the details of the getaway, which followed months of planning.
Aides insisted the departure wasnt the result of negotiations with the government, as many supporters and even opponents of the socialist government have speculated.
President Nicols Maduros government had yet to comment. But members of the SEBIN intelligence police have detained several people working at the diplomatic mission, including a woman who served meals to Lopez and private security guards, according to Lpezs allies.
SEBIN on Saturday tried to search the homes of officers with Spains national police posted to the diplomatic compound in search of information about Lpezs whereabouts.
Spains government condemned that action, saying it violated the Vienna convention governing international diplomatic relations.
We call attention to this new abuse by the dictatorships henchmen, Lpezs Popular Will party said in a statement, referring to the detentions.
Lpez, 49, has yet to make a public appearance. But he said Saturday night on social media that the decision to leave his homeland had not been simple.
Well continue working day and night to attain the freedom that we Venezuelans all deserve, Lpez tweeted late Saturday.
He said more details on plans for democratic change in Venezuela will be announced in coming days
After seven years of persecution and unjust imprisonment inside Venezuela, Leopoldo Lpez is still not totally free, like all Venezuelans, so long as there exists a dictatorship that violates the human rights of the people, his party said.
It is unclear how Lpez left the ambassadors residence, given the heavy state security presence permanently stationed outside the property. Travel by land has grown increasingly difficult because of widespread fuel shortages and checkpoints manned by security forces have proliferated across the country.
In a message directed to Maduro on Twitter, U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaid said his political mentor had gotten out of Venezuela by evading your repressive apparatus.
Lpez was sentenced in 2015 to nearly 14 years in prison after being convicted of inciting violence during anti-government protests in which three people died and dozens were wounded. He was released from prison and placed under house arrest after more than three years in a military jail.
Even while confined, Lpez has remained an influential figure in Venezuelas opposition, advising Guaid, who is recognized by more than 50 nations as the countrys interim president because Maduros 2018 re-election was considered illegitimate.
But after drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets last year, the opposition has struggled to regain momentum. Maduro remains firmly in control of the nations military and nearly all other government functions.
The government also is preparing to retake control of the National Assembly, the last major domestic institution in opposition hands, in December legislative elections that Guaid has vowed to boycott.
Lpez had long stubbornly refused to leave even when his wife and children fled last year to Spain, where his father has citizenship is a member of the European Parliament.
Lpez joins dozens of anti-government figures who have fled Venezuela over recent years, many leaving covertly to avoid potential persecution or jail time. Millions of ordinary citizens have left due to the country’s collapsing economy.
The years Lpez spent at a military prison solidified his image as a man willing to risk his own skin to rid the country of Maduro.
He sought allies among his former jailers in the military and in 2019 reappeared on a highway overpass with a small band of national guardsmen calling for an uprising against Maduro. The putsch was easily quashed and Lpez took refuge in the ambassadors residence.
Lpez’s departure comes just days after Spains Ambassador Jesus Silva was recalled by Spains leftist government to Madrid after serving for four years.
Silva, a career diplomat, was a firm backer of Lpez. But as a holdover from previous Spanish administrations who was once expelled by Maduro, he was less effective an interlocutor when Spains socialist government took power.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APjoshgoodman
Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor