The rightful mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma escaped from house arrest in Venezuela on Friday, the country’s latest politician to flee the country amid rising levels of political persecution.
Antonio Ledezma, who was placed under house arrest in 2015 for allegedly supporting a coup against the government and committing “crimes against the country,” crossed the border into Colombia before taking a flight to Spain to reunite with his family, Colombian authorities confirmed.
“In Spain today, I feel free,” Ledzema told reporters amid a small crowd at Madrid airport. “Let’s not permit that Venezuela dies in our hands.”
“It’s time for him [dictator Nicolás Maduro] to step aside and allow a transition government,” said Ledezma. “Maduro cannot keep torturing the Venezuelan people. He’s killing Venezuelans with hunger.”
The 62-year-old said that he did not inform his family of the escape plan, which included passing through 29 security checkpoints undetected.
Maduro, who presided over Ledezma’s persecution, said on national television that “the vampire is flying free in the world.”
“I hope they never send him back, they can keep the Vampire,” Maduro said on Friday evening. “The people of Madrid will have to be careful at night.”
Ledezma had been detained for years without being convicted or tried for a crime, although he was transferred to house arrest after his health deteriorated in prison.
In July, Ledezma was filmed being taken away by authorities on grounds that he had “violated” his house arrest provisions with a plan to flee the country, although he was later released.
Meanwhile, fellow opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2014 for his involvement in organizing protests against the government, remains incarcerated at the Ramo Verde military prison south of Caracas.
Lopez was released and placed under house arrest by authorities in July, although was later recaptured after allegedly violating his house arrest provisions with “political proselytizing” by calling on Venezuelans to assemble against the country’s increasingly authoritarian government.
Political persecution has increased in Venezuela as Maduro’s socialist regime descends further into a dictatorship, following the creation of a fraudulent lawmaking body known as the “national constituent assembly” that has stripped elected officials of any reminiscence of power.
In August, former Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former loyalist to the late Hugo Chávez, received political asylum in Colombia after authorities issued a warrant for her arrest. Ortega turned on the regime and publicly revealed evidence of significant corruption within the highest levels of Maduro’s regime.
A United Nations report in September reported that the regime engaged in “extensive” and widespread repression of political dissidents amid an economic and humanitarian crisis that has left millions starving and thousands dead.
“The findings detailed in this report point to an increasingly critical human rights situation since the protests began, with mounting levels of repression of political dissent by national security forces, and increasing stigmatization and persecution of people perceived as opposing the Government of President Maduro,” the report stated.