Venezuela Opposition Figure, Long Confined, Flees to Spain

The 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.

Mr. López, 49, went to Spain after leaving the Spanish Embassy in Caracas, according to Spain’s Foreign Ministry. He had sought refuge at the Spanish ambassador’s residence after he helped lead a failed uprising against the government in April 2019.

A charismatic U.S.-educated former mayor with a piercing glare, Mr. 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.

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

Mr. Guaidó and Mr. López called on the military to help them take power, but it largely stood by Mr. Maduro.

Mr. 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 Mr. Guaidó’s bid for power plunged an already rapidly shrinking Venezuelan economy and its people into a full-scale humanitarian crisis.

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

Mr. López’s party, Popular Will, said its departed leader had pledged his unconditional support for Mr. Guaidó and would continue fighting against Mr. 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.

When Mr. López arrived in Madrid, he was “reunited with his family,” Spain’s foreign ministry said.

Lilian Tintori, Mr. López’s wife, had met with President Trump at the White House in early 2017, which help pave the way for his administration’s decision to recognize Mr. Guaidó.

Mr. López’s parents have also been living in Madrid as part of a growing diaspora of Venezuelans who have resettled in Spain. His father, also called Leopoldo López, was among the prominent Venezuelans who were granted Spanish citizenship by the previous Spanish conservative government of Mariano Rajoy, and he was elected last year as a member of the European Parliament, representing Spain’s conservative Popular Party.

Spain’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Mr. López had taken the “personal and voluntary” decision to leave its embassy in Caracas.

After Mr. López fled, the Venezuelan police detained a security guard working at the Spanish embassy.

Spain’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that it condemned acts committed by Venezuela’s government against people working at its embassy, including detentions and the raiding of homes, which it said amounted to violations of international diplomatic conventions.

Anatoly Kurmanaev reported from Mexico City and Raphael Minder reported from Madrid.

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