After more than six years in confinement, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López is a free man and has been reunited with his family in Madrid. López arrived Sunday in the Spanish capital following what aides described as a whirlwind escape from the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas where he had been holed up since leading a failed U.S.-backed military putsch against Nicolas Maduro in April 2019.
Two people close to López said he fled Venezuela by sea, arriving in the nearby Caribbean island of Aruba on Friday, which followed months of planning.
Aides insisted the departure wasn't the result of negotiations with the government, as many supporters and even opponents of the socialist government have speculated.
Como siempre, desde las calles con el pueblo, o en una cárcel militar, desde un tribunal injusto o perseguido en una embajada, todo nuestro tiempo y energía será para serle útil al pueblo venezolano en la conquista de su libertad— Leopoldo López (@leopoldolopez) October 25, 2020
President Nicolás Maduro's government did not comment immediately but members of the SEBIN intelligence police have detained several people working at the diplomatic mission, including a woman who served meals to Lopez and private security guards, according to López's allies.
SEBIN on Saturday tried to search the homes of officers with Spain's national police posted to the diplomatic compound in search of information about López's whereabouts.
Spain's government condemned that action, saying it violated the Vienna convention governing international diplomatic relations.
We call attention to this new abuse by the dictatorship's henchmen, López's Popular Will party said in a statement, referring to the detentions.
Venezuela's government, meanwhile, issued a statement on Sunday blasting Spain for assisting the terrorist Lopez in his escape. It called Spain's Ambassador Jesus Silva the main organizer and accomplice in Lopez's flight, but refrained from expelling the diplomat, who was recently recalled and is scheduled to wrap up his assignment in Caracas next month.
López tweeted late Saturday, we'll continue working day and night to attain the freedom that we Venezuelans all deserve and on Sunday released a picture with his wife Lilián Tintori and three children in Spain.
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, his 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 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.
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.
Even while confined, López has remained an influential figure in Venezuela's opposition, advising Guaidó, who is recognized by more than 60 nations as the country's interim president because Maduro's 2018 re-election was considered illegitimate.
But after drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets last year, the opposition has struggled to regain momentum. Maduro remains firmly in control of the nation's military and nearly all other government functions.
The government also is preparing to retake control of the National Assembly, the last major domestic institution in opposition hands, in December legislative elections that Guaidó has vowed to boycott.
López had long stubbornly refused to leave even when his wife and children fled last year to Spain, where his father has citizenship is a member of the European Parliament.