• The Star Staff

Venezuela opposition figure, long confined, flees country

By Anatoly Kurmanaev

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López fled the country Saturday after spending the past six years in jail, house arrest and diplomatic asylum, his political party said.

López, 49, is heading to an undisclosed international destination after leaving the Spanish Embassy in Caracas, according to his political party and Spain’s Foreign Ministry. He had sought refuge at the Spanish ambassador’s residence after leading a failed military uprising against the government in April 2019.

A charismatic, U.S.-educated former mayor with a piercing glare, López has for years been one of the most radical opponents of Venezuela’s authoritarian president, Nicolas Maduro, whom he sought to overthrow through street protests and increasingly desperate palace plots. His maximalist tactics, however, have backfired, leaving the opposition dismantled and increasingly irrelevant to the struggles facing Venezuelans amid one the deepest economic recessions in modern history.

López came nearest his goal in early 2019, when his protégé, Juan Guaidó, a young lawmaker, declared himself the country’s interim president, citing Maduro’s fraudulent reelection. The United States and most European and Latin American countries swiftly backed him, cutting the government off from the global economy.

Maduro, however, has weathered the challenge and used his control over security forces to gradually suppress the opposition and terrorize its supporters. As Venezuela’s political crisis escalated, sanctions by the Trump administration to aid Guaidó’s bid for power plunged an already rapidly shrinking Venezuelan economy and its people into a full-scale humanitarian crisis.

López now becomes the latest opposition leader to leave for exile, leaving Guaidó increasingly isolated. Guaidó’s term as the speaker of parliament, on which he has based his claim to the country’s leadership, expires in January, threatening to leave the opposition without its last base of support.

López’s party, Popular Will, said its departed leader has pledged his unconditional support for Guaidó and will continue fighting against Maduro, who has resorted to torture, extrajudicial killings and legal persecution to maintain his grip on power.

“Like other Venezuelans, Leopoldo López is not fully free as long as there’s a dictatorship that violates human rights of the people,” his party said in a statement Saturday.