Escaped Venezuelan Opposition Leader Welcomed in Spain, Meets with Rajoy

Ex-Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, alias “the vampire”, was welcomed in Madrid by Spain’s right-wing prime minister. 

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Spanish President Mariano Rajoy with Venezuelan fugitive Antonio Ledezma
Spanish President Mariano Rajoy (L) welcomes Antonio Ledezma. (Twitter/@marianorajoy)
By Lucas Koerner
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Caracas, November 20, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Former Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma arrived in Madrid from Bogota Saturday after fleeing house arrest the day before.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Ledezma escaped across the Colombian border and was welcomed by the government in Bogota, which said the ex-mayor entered the country “legally” and indicated it was willing to offer him political asylum.

A longtime opposition hardliner, Ledezma was arrested and indicted in 2015 in alleged connection to a thwarted coup plot as well as alleged sponsorship of right-wing terrorism.

More specifically, the politician was repeatedly named by ultra right-wing student leader Lorent Saleh as the chief ally of violent anti-government militants. Saleh was extradited from Colombia in 2014 after a series of intercepted Skype conversations revealed plans to carry out bombings and assassinate leftist political leaders in the Venezuelan border state of Tachira.

Following his arrival in Madrid, Ledezma was received at Moncloa Palace by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who called the ex-mayor “one of the principal [role] models of the sister people of Venezuela's struggle to recover freedom and democratic normality”.

The meeting was sharply denounced by Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry as the “latest in a long list of aggressions” against the Maduro government from Madrid. 

“President Rajoy insists on violating all the principles of international law in giving protection and sustained support to an extremist group of the violent Venezuelan opposition,” reads the text of the official foreign ministry statement.

Ledezma’s arrival in Spain has, nonetheless, been welcomed by a number of leading right-wing Spanish political figures, including former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. 

“Welcome to Spain, friend,” Aznar wrote in a message published on social media.

Leader of Spain from 1996 to 2004, Aznar has been a staunch backer of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, and in 2002 he openly supported a coup against late President Hugo Chavez, labeling the short-lived Carmona dictatorship a “provisional government”.

Following his escape, Ledezma also reportedly held a telephone conversation with Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro.

“I spoke on the phone with Mayor Antonio Ledezma who freed himself from the dictatorship to fight for the liberation of Venezuela,” he wrote on Twitter.

A self-declared enemy of the Venezuelan government, Almagro has openly aligned himself with the opposition’s radical wing represented by Ledezma and Maria Corina Machado, using his platform at the OAS to promote election boycotts and sanctions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, for his part, said Friday that Ledezma had fled to Spain to “live the good life” and that Caracas does not want him back.

“They can keep their vampire over there. The people of Madrid will have to be careful at night,” he said, making use of the politician’s popular nickname.

Ledezma earned the notorious moniker during his tenure as governor of the Caracas Federal District in which he presided over widespread state repression, including the 1989 Caracazo massacre that saw security forces gun down at least 3000 people amid anti-austerity protests. The opposition leader was never charged in relation to the bloody episode.

Upon his arrival in Spain, Ledezma wasted no time in making public his political allegiances in the southern European country, attacking the left-wing Spanish political party Podemos as an arm of the Venezuelan government and distancing himself from exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

When asked if his case is similar to that of the Catalan independence leader currently seeking political asylum in Belgium, Ledezma replied, “Mr. Puigdemont has tried to divide Spain [while] I freed myself because I want to unite Venezuela.”

The ex-mayor has also taken aim at his fellow leaders of Venezuela’s main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

“There has to be a purge within the opposition… We have won many victories but we have turned them into defeats,” he remarked during a press conference on Saturday.

In particular, Ledezma lambasted the MUD’s choice to participate in last month’s regional elections as well as the decision by some opposition parties to register for December 10 municipal races.

However over the past month, a host of opposition leaders have blamed Ledezma’s and others’ calls for abstention for the MUD’s devastating defeat in regional elections on October 15. 

He additionally criticized the MUD’s decision to participate in December 1 talks with the government.

“How are we going to dialogue if the internal contradictions have not been resolved,” he said, referring to renewed outbreak of internecine strife within the MUD following its electoral loss.

Ledezma has vowed to launch a “global pilgramage” to “tell the truth” about Venezuela.