Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan opposition figure who has sheltered at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas for 18 months, has fled the country, his father has said.
“I can confirm he left the embassy of his own free will and left Venezuela in secret,” his father, who is also called Leopoldo López and who lives in Spain, told AFP.
He said he hoped his son would arrive in Madrid on Monday.
Later, the younger López himself seemed to confirm the news. “Venezuelans, this decision has not been easy, but be assured that you can count on this servant to fight from any space,” he wrote on Twitter.
López, 49, the former mayor of Chacao, an upmarket district of Caracas, was arrested in 2014 when mass opposition protests began in Venezuela, and served several years in prison before being released to house arrest.
He was freed by military officials who were keeping him under house arrest and sought refuge inside the Spanish ambassador’s residence.
López senior said on Saturday his son had left the embassy “about two days ago” and crossed the border into Colombia on Friday. He had since moved on and was heading to Madrid to be reunited with his wife and three children.
“We hope he will be here tomorrow,” said López senior, a member of the European parliament for Spain’s rightwing Popular party.
The Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro has not yet reacted publicly to the latest exile of a high-profile opponent, but the US welcomed the news.
“We are happy to see Leopoldo López free,” tweeted the virtual US embassy for Venezuela, located in Colombia. “The illegitimate regime has hundreds of prisoners because they do not agree with Maduro, they represent a threat because the people are with them, or they have the audacity to ask for the rights of the constitution.”
His Popular Will party said López would “initiate new actions in favour of the struggle for freedom in Venezuela”.
According to one political analyst, the departure weakens Guaidó within an already divided opposition. “It is the signal that Guaidó is heading towards the exit,” said Jesus Castillo-Molleda.
As president of the national assembly, Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela in 2019, calling Maduro’s re-election a fraud. Since then Guaidó has been trying, in vain and despite international support, to oust Maduro, political heir of the late president Hugo Chávez.
In power since 2013, Maduro continues to enjoy the support of the army, the cornerstone of the Venezuelan political system, as well as Russia, Iran and Cuba.
López’s exile comes ahead of legislative elections called by the government for 6 December. The opposition has called for a boycott of the vote.