[UPDATED] Venezuelan Hard Right Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez Flees to Spain

Lopez had been in the Spanish Ambassador’s residence after escaping house arrest.

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Leopoldo Lopez addressing reporters when he entered the Spanish embassy last year. (Reuters)
Leopoldo Lopez addressing reporters when he entered the Spanish embassy last year. (Reuters)
By Ricardo Vaz
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Mérida, October 25, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez arrived in Spain on Sunday.

“Leopoldo Lopez arrived in Madrid and reunited with his family,” a statement from Spain’s Foreign Ministry read, adding that his decision to leave the Spanish embassy in Caracas was “personal and voluntary.”

Long seen as one of the most prominent anti-Chavista figures, Lopez had been in the Spanish Ambassador’s residence for 18 months. He was freed from house arrest by rogue intelligence officers during the failed military putsch on April 30, 2019 and sought refuge in the embassy after the coup attempt fizzled out.

The founder of the far right Popular Will party was a key actor in the 2002 failed coup attempt against then President Hugo Chavez and later played a leading role in the 2014 violent “guarimba” street protests which left 43 people dead. He was found guilty of public incitement to violence and association to commit crimes and convicted to a 13 years and nine months prison sentence in 2015, which was commuted to house arrest two years later.

The hardline leader, who descends from one of Venezuela’s wealthiest families and graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was reported to have left the Spanish embassy on Saturday morning. There were conflicting reports on whether he had escaped to Colombia or the Dutch island of Aruba. He later tweeted that he would continue “working day and night to fight for Venezuelans’ freedom.”

Other opposition leaders likewise celebrated his escape. Self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido wrote on Twitter that the opposition had “fooled the government’s repressive apparatus” and that Lopez would contribute to anti-government efforts.

The Venezuelan government reacted on Sunday afternoon, with a Foreign Ministry statement accusing Spain of a "flagrant violation" of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

"Spain actively participated in the escape of a dangerous criminal and hosts him in its territory, with no regard for international law," the statement read. It went on to accuse the Spanish ambassador of being "the main organizer and accomplice" in the operation.

Caracas had issued an arrest warrant following his participation in the April 2019 coup attempt but the Spanish Foreign Ministry insisted he was a "guest" at the embassy. There were unconfirmed reports on Saturday that an embassy security guard, one of Lopez’s assistants and two bodyguards were detained by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) likewise condemned Lopez's escape, calling on the government to issue an Interpol arrest warrant and seek the extradition of the far right politician as well as take measures on Spanish participation. The PCV claimed that a failure to take action would "demonstrate complicity with this supposed escape."

Lopez’s departure to Spain follows other high profile opposition figures who also fled house arrest and left the country. Former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma escaped in November 2017, while former Caracas police chief Ivan Simonovis did so in May 2019. Ledezma was awaiting trial for plotting a coup and having links to terrorist cells, while Simonovis was convicted to a 30-year sentence in 2009 for his responsibility in the killing of civilians during the 2002 coup.

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