Venezuelan opposition leader seeks refuge in Spanish embassy in Caracas

Leopoldo López’s move poses a diplomatic problem for Spain, which, despite recognizing Guaidó as acting president, has not broken ties with the Maduro government

Juan Guaidó (l), with Leopoldo López at a demonstration on Tuesday.
Juan Guaidó (l), with Leopoldo López at a demonstration on Tuesday.reuters

The Spanish government confirmed on Wednesday that the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, his wife Lilian Tintori and their daughter (the couple have another daughter and son) are currently in the Spanish embassy in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

Spanish government sources have confirmed that López has not asked for political asylum

According to the Spanish government, the three are staying in the residence of the Spanish ambassador to Venezuela, Jesús Silva Fernández. Like all embassies and consulates, the ambassador’s residence is inviolable, meaning the Venezuelan politician cannot be arrested while inside the premises. Sources from the Spanish government have confirmed that López has not asked for political asylum.

López is one of the opposition leaders who has been most targeted by the government of Nicolás Maduro. He was put under house arrest in July 2017 for inciting violence at the 2014 opposition protests and was freed on Tuesday by a group of Venezuelan military members who support Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly who has been recognized as the country’s acting president by more than 50 countries, including Spain. Speaking after his release, López explained that military members responsible for keeping the opposition leader under house arrest had turned their backs on Maduro and decided to support Guaidó.

López’s presence in the Spanish embassy poses a diplomatic problem for Spain, which, despite recognizing Guaidó as acting president, has not broken ties with the Maduro government. Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell is currently on a scheduled to trip to Jordan.

After first going to the Chilean embassy in Caracas, López and his family asked the Spanish delegation and the government of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for permission to move to the Spanish embassy in the city, a request that was approved.

Chilean Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero was the first to reveal that the Venezuelan opposition leader had moved to the Spanish embassy. In a message on Twitter, Ampuero wrote: “Lilian Tintori and Leopoldo López – of Spanish descent – have moved to the Spanish embassy. It is a personal decision, given that our embassy already had guests.”

Who is Leopoldo López?

López was born in Caracas on April 29, 1971. He has a degree in economics from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a master’s degree in public policies from the same institution. In 2000, he co-founded the political party Primero Justicia (Justice First) with Henrique Capriles Radonski, Carlos Ocariz and other young leaders. The party became one of the leading opposition forces against the government of then-president Hugo Chávez. That same year, López was elected mayor of Chacao, an upper class area in Caracas and one of the country’s opposition strongholds.

López is now the leader of Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), a party that he founded in 2009. Although López comes from a conservative and affluent family, his party aims to provide a social-democratic alternative to Chavismo, the left-wing political ideology based on the ideas of Chávez.

The opposition leader was arrested in February 2014 and sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison for criminal association, inciting violence and destroying public goods. He was placed in maximum security Ramo Verde prison in Miranda before being moved to house arrest.

Spain granted Spanish nationality to López’s parents. Indeed, the conservative Popular Party (PP) has named López’s father, who is also called Leopoldo López, as a candidate for the European elections on May 26. As well as granting nationality, Spain has welcomed other Venezuelan opposition leaders, such as the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who fled house arrest in Venezuela, and the activist Lorent Saleh.

May Day protests

After around 100 people were injured on Tuesday in clashes between opposition and government forces, Guaidó and the Maduro government have called for more street protests to coincide with May Day on Wednesday. Guaidó asked for “all of Venezuela” to take to the streets to stage a “peaceful rebellion” to overthrow the Maduro government.

Maduro, in his first message since López’s escape, insisted that Venezuelans continue the “active resistance” against the opposition and called for people to mobilize in their millions.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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