Prominent opposition activist Leopoldo López has abandoned the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas and left Venezuela after years of frustrated efforts to oust the nation's socialist president, his party said Saturday.
The 49-year-old former Caracas-area mayor has been holed up at the ambassador’s residence since a failed military uprising he led in April 2019 aimed at ousting President Nicolás Maduro. He has been jailed, under house arrest or in a foreign embassy refuge for nearly seven years.
“We won't rest and we'll continue working day and night to attain the freedom that we Venezuelans all deserve,” López tweeted late Saturday. He said the decision to leave had not been ‘’simple'' and that more details on plans for democratic change in Venezuela will be announced in coming days.
In a statement from Popular Will, the party López founded, leaders confirmed he had left the country to continue his work from abroad in a decision they deemed “best for the country and the fight for Venezuela's freedom.”
“After seven years of persecution and unjust imprisonment inside Venezuela, Leopoldo López is still not totally free, like all Venezuelans, so long as there exists a dictatorship that violates the human rights of the people,” the party said.
It is unclear how López left the ambassador's residence, given the heavy state security presence permanently stationed outside the property. Travel by land has grown increasingly difficult because of widespread fuel shortages. Filling up a vehicle with gas can take hours if not days and checkpoints manned by security forces have proliferated across the country.
In a message directed to Maduro on Twitter, U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó said his political mentor had gotten out of Venezuela by “evading your repressive apparatus.” He added to López’s efforts to remove Maduro would continue from abroad as part of the opposition strategy to garner international support.
“Maduro you don’t control anything,” Guaidó wrote.
López was sentenced in 2015 to nearly 14 years in prison after being convicted of inciting violence during anti-government protests in which three people died and dozens were wounded. He was released from prison and placed under house arrest after more than three years in a military jail.
López’s flight is likely to be held up by the government as a trophy as it prepares to retake control of the National Assembly in December legislative elections that Guaidó has vowed to boycott. López had long stubbornly refused to leave even when his wife and children fled to Spain last year.
“It’s probably the clearest sign that the continued opposition effort to unseat Maduro has floundered that a committed stay-in-Venezuela leader like Lopez has chosen to finally leave,” said Raul Gallegos, a Colombia-based analyst at Control Risks consultancy.
Lopez departure comes just days after Spain’s Ambassador Jesus Silva—who has been the dean of Caracas’ dwindling diplomatic community—was recalled by Spain’s leftist government to Madrid after serving for four years. Silva, a career diplomat, was a firm backer of López. But as a holdover from previous Spanish administrations who was once expelled by Maduro, he was less effective an interlocutor when Spain’s socialist government took power.