The most famous Venezuelan political prisoner, Leopoldo López, left the residence of the Spanish Ambassador in Venezuela at some point Friday, leaving a trail of political upheaval spanning two continents.
Lopez, who had been a guest in the Spanish mission since 2019, traveled from Caracas to Apure state in the Venezuelan plains by means unknown, according to an itinerary obtained exclusively by El Pitazo. There, he crossed into Colombia, arriving at the capital city of Bogota, and then traveling to Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, where he took a plane to Madrid. Sunday, he was in Madrid with his wife and three children.
The father of the opposition leader, European parliament member Leopoldo Lopez Gil, confirmed through a tweet, which he later erased, that his son was flying to Spain.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed that Lopez left the ambassador residence “of his own free will.”
Likewise, the interim government of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó assured that from, abroad Leopoldo López “will give more strength and forcefulness” to achieve the freedom of Venezuela.
Mayor to fugitive
Lopez was mayor of the Chacao municipality from 2000 to 2008. Born in 1971, since his incursion in politics, Chavismo has considered him a threat: he has been denounced, banned from running for elected office several times, tried and, in 2014, a political prisoner, first at a military jail where human-rights abuses allegedly take place, then in his own house.
Lopez, with university degrees from Venezuela and the United States, he was working in state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela when Chavez first took over in 1999.
In 2002, the public administration said he was involved in the coup that overthrew Chavez for 72 hours. During that period, Lopez allegedly kidnapped the interior minister Ramon Rodriguez, but he was never formally accused.
In 2006 Lopez withdrew from the Primero Justicia party to join Un Nuevo Tiempo, from where he got expelled in 2009 after changes in the internal structure of the organization. That year he decided to found Voluntad Popular, an action that made him the target of accusations on several occasions by opposition leaders, such as Julio Borges and Omar Barboza.
In 2008, Lopez was banned from running for public offices for his alleged irregularities in his administration as mayor by the Chavez administration. The decision prevented him from holding public office for a period of three to six years.
In 2011 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled in favor of Lopez and demand that the Venezuelan State reinstates his political rights, but the decision has not complied.
The leader of Voluntad Popular partook in the 2012 primaries to choose the presidential candidate who would face Hugo Chavez, but Henrique Capriles Radonski won, and he backed him.
Two years later, in 2014, he joined Maria Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma to promote what they called “the exit,” a call to the streets to demand the resignation of Nicolas Maduro.
During the ensuing period of protests, 43 demonstrators and officers of security forces got killed. Earlier this 2020, the United Nations said that the regime carried out crimes against humanity during that period.
Lopez and Ledezma were incarcerated for their involvement in La Salida. Ledezma also escaped, years before Lopez.
After violent acts in a multitudinous march in February 2014, in which three people died, 66 injured, and 69 detained, and public buildings got damaged. Lopez was accused of public instigation, damage, and fire damage to property and association to commit crimes.
However, people had been violently protesting against Maduro since February 4 in Tachira, with no visible Lopez involvement.
On February 18, 2014, at an opposition rally held in Caracas. Lopez, accompanied by his wife, Lilian Tintori, surrendered to a police commission that transferred him to the seat of courts, the Justice Palace, where they ordered his confinement in the Ramo Verde prison.
The judicial process against Leopoldo López ended in September 2015. He was sentenced to 13 years, nine months, seven days, and 12 hours in prison, and the place of detention would remain the same cell at Ramo Verde, where he had already served more than a year. An uncommon break came for Lopez when in July 2017, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) remanded him to house arrest.
Lopez escaped from house arrest and joined National Assembly President Juan Guaido in an uprising by military officers on April 30 in the La Carlota Air Force base in Caracas. Two key Maduro regime figures, Vladimir Padrino Lopez (Minister of Defense) and Maikel Moreno (President of the Supreme Court of Justice) would join them.
But Maduro remained in power. However, on that day, several hundred regime military and police began defecting, including General Manuel Christopher Figuera, the head of the SEBIN national intelligence agency. And Ivan Simonovis, another political prisoner, also escaped.
Simonovis, formerly a high-ranking policeman, has since joined the Guaido administration and is now the top law-enforcement liaison with Washington.
When it was clear that Maduro had managed to remain in power, Lopez decided to seek refuge.
In the early morning of April 30 of that year, he left his residence, saying that he had received a pardon from the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, which was observed by officials of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin). To the regime, he escaped.
Shortly after noon of that April 30, after the failure of the uprising, Lopez moved to the Chilean Embassy to take shelter. A day later, he went to the residence of the Spanish Ambassador to Venezuela, where he remained as a guest until Friday, October 23, when he left the country through the border with Colombia to go to Spain.
From Venezuela, he could not request asylum because Spanish regulations only allow making such requests within the territory. The measure of house arrest, granted in July 2017, was revoked on May 2, 2019, by the Fifth Execution Court of the First Instance of the Criminal Judicial District of the Caracas Metropolitan Area, which issued an arrest warrant against him.
This Saturday, October 24, it became known that the opposition member left of his own free will the residence of the Spanish Ambassador in Caracas to move to Madrid, Spain, where he arrived Sunday morning, October 25.
The regime, in turn, accused Spain of complicity in the departure of Leopoldo Lopez. A statement published by the foreign minister of Maduro, Jorge Arreaza, denounced a supposed “violation of the Vienna Convention” and points out Spanish ambassador, Jesus Silva, as complicit in Lopez’s flight.
The government of Maduro denounced non-compliance from Spain with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by allowing Leopoldo López to leave the residence of its ambassador in Venezuela and receive him in Madrid.
“The unprecedented violation of the international contract that governs civilized relations between States dates back to at least 2017 and has been carried out in Venezuelan territory directly by the Spanish Ambassador accredited in Caracas,” reads the statement.
The text continues: “the biased diplomatic practice of the Spanish representative became even more notable, to the point of sheltering under a non-existent and illegal figure, in the very residence of Spain, a fugitive condemned by the Venezuelan justice, responsible, among other crimes, for the death and injuries of hundreds of Venezuelans in the year 2014.”
The Maduro’s regime says that in violation of international agreements, Lopez planned yet another failed attempt to oust Maduro, Operacion Gedeon, which took place in early 2020.
The regime accused the then head of the Spanish diplomatic mission in Venezuela of being the “main organizer and accomplice” of the political leader exit from the country.
“In this manner, the Kingdom of Spain actively participates in the escape of a dangerous criminal and decides to receive him in its territory, without regard to international laws and even Spanish immigration laws and bilateral agreements in matters of justice,” the communique adds.
Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho.