CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
The ousted mayor of Caracas pledged to spread his protest against Venezuela’s socialist government across the world as he arrived in Spain on Saturday, a day after escaping from house arrest and slipping past security forces into Colombia.
After embracing his wife and two daughters with a Venezuela flag draped over his shoulder, Antonio Ledezma said he was going to continue to fight Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from exile.
“I am going to dedicate myself to traveling the world, to spread the hope of all Venezuelans to escape this regime, this dictatorship,” Ledezma said.
Maduro, for his part, called Ledezma a “vampire flying around the world.”
Ledezma, 62, was removed as mayor of Caracas and detained in 2015 on charges of plotting to oust Maduro. He was one of the leaders of anti-government in protests that rocked Venezuela in 2014 that also led to the jailing of other prominent opponents, including his former cellmate Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.
Ledezma’s flight from Bogota landed early Saturday in Madrid where besides his family, he was greeted by the former president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, and the former Venezuelan ambassador, Fernando Gerbasi.
Ledezma said he “felt freedom” upon touching Spanish soil and hopes to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy before starting his global tour. He did not say what countries he plans to visit.
Ledezma arrived in Madrid on Saturday and was greeted by his family.
“Venezuela is not on the edge looking into the abyss. It is in the abyss,” Ledezma said. “It’s collapsing. And that’s what I want to talk about with the (Spanish) Prime Minister Rajoy.”
“Venezuela is completely collapsing. We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We don’t have any resources left, only our morale.”
Ledezma told The Associated Press on Friday that his decision to flee was driven by threats intended to force the opposition to resume negotiations with Maduro’s government.
After slipping past intelligence police officers stationed 24 hours a day outside his residence, he passed through several police checkpoints in a long journey by car to Colombia. Colombian immigration authorities said Ledezma entered the country legally across the Simon Bolivar Bridge.
Ledezma, who thanked both Spanish and Colombian authorities for what he described as their warm welcomes, was elated after his escape.
“I’ve lived out a James Bond movie,” Ledemza said. “I made this route of more than 24 hours, passing 29 control points, checkpoints, crossing paths, accepting all the risks, and in every moment I always thought about the value of freedom.”