Jailed Venezuelan Opposition Leader Escapes House Arrest, Flees to Spain

The former mayor of Caracas — who is a staunch opponent of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — was welcomed Saturday in Madrid after escaping house arrest.

“I have the support from the Spanish government to remain in Spain as long as necessary, as well as my family who are accompanying me here, my wife Mitzy, and my daughters, who are here at my side,” Antonio Ledezma said.

Former mayor of Caracas and Venezuelan opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma, meets his wife Mitzy Capriles during his arrival to Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport on Nov. 18, 2017, in Madrid, Spain. (Credit: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Former mayor of Caracas and Venezuelan opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma, meets his wife Mitzy Capriles during his arrival to Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport on Nov. 18, 2017, in Madrid, Spain. (Credit: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy received Ledezma, a longtime Venezuelan opposition lawmaker, and his wife, Mitzy Capriles, on Saturday at Moncloa Palace.

Ledezma, 62, was elected mayor of Caracas in 2008. He was arrested in February 2015, after Maduro accused him of involvement in a plot to overthrow the government. He was later released from jail and put under house arrest for health reasons.

Speaking to journalists after his meeting with Rajoy, Ledezma vowed to continue fighting the Venezuelan President.

“Maduro is not simply a president. Maduro is a tyrant that controls by force the country’s institutions and seeks to subdue people like me,” Ledezma said, adding that Maduro was carrying out a “political witch hunt” against him and other opposition leaders who have become political prisoners.

The Spanish government reiterated in a statement after the meeting its “full commitment to democracy in Venezuela” and hope for “a fully democratic solution to the Venezuelan crisis, which necessarily must be achieved through the freeing of all political prisoners and the celebration of fully democratic and approved elections in the country.”

Earlier in the day, Ledezma spoke to journalists at the Madrid airport, where he said Venezuela was not at the edge of an abyss but had already hit bottom.

Maduro on Friday mocked Ledezma’s escape.

“The vampire is flying free around the world!” the President said, laughing. “The vampire, protected, has gone to Spain — to live the great life.”

Maduro added that he doesn’t want Ledezma to return, stating, “Keep your vampire there.”

Daring escape

Ledezma’s escape was something worthy of a movie script.

“This journey of more than 24 hours was like a James Bond movie. We passed more than 29 checkpoints, roadblocks,” he told journalists. “I took all the risks. I couldn’t help but to think of the value of freedom. Today, when I arrived in Spain, I felt free.”

Ledezma first stopped in Colombia after crossing the border by land at the town of Villa del Rosario. His family didn’t know his plan, he told Caracol Radio, adding that he asked “for the understanding of my wife and daughters” and their “hours of anguish not knowing where I was.”

Earlier this year, Venezuela’s Intelligence Service, known as SEBIN, temporarily moved Ledezma out of house arrest after he publicly criticized the Maduro government in a YouTube video. Under the cover of night, they moved him — along with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez — to the Ramo Verde military prison.

The move by SEBIN set off public outcry by many in the international community, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the US government. The two men were eventually returned to house arrest.

Lopez and Ledezma had been prohibited from carrying out political actions during their house arrests, and Ledezma had been forbidden from making declarations to any news media.

Venezuela in crisis

Venezuela is facing several crises. Skyrocketing inflation has created extreme shortages of food, medicine and other essentials. The International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation in Venezuela will hit 650% this year and 2,300% in 2018.

A political crisis peaked in July, when Maduro replaced the opposition-controlled legislature with an entirely new one stacked with his supporters.

Several governments, including that of the United States, have since labeled Maduro’s regime a dictatorship.

The country is also facing a cash crisis after missing a crucial debt payment earlier this month, according to a statement issued by S&P Global Ratings.