Antonio Ledezma, a prominent Venezuelan political prisoner since 2015, managed to escape from Venezuela and was on his way to Spain Friday.
After crossing the treacherous border with Colombia, Ledezma decided to talk to reporters in Cúcuta, a Colombian city at the Venezuelan border.
He said his secret “odyssey” included crossing 29 police checkpoints and he apologized to his wife and daughters for not telling them about his plan to escape.
“I am going to defend the liberty of Venezuela,” the 62-year-old Venezuelan attorney said. “I’m more useful to Venezuela in the street.”
The former mayor of Caracas had been held on house arrest without trial since 2016 on accusations that he had supported an attempted coup. When the government suspected his plot to escape in August, they raided his apartment and interrogated him.
Ledezma flew from Cúcuta to Bogotá, where he boarded a flight to Europe to be reunited with his family. El Nacional, a Venezuelan newspaper, reported Ledezma’s relatives had also escaped the country.
Armed security officials stood outside Ledezma’s apartment complex in Caracas, as authorities investigated how his escape took place. Jose Castillo, one of Ledezma’s neighbors, questioned the efficiency of the government’s security. He said he had noticed police officers often spent the day distracted on their cell phones.
According to the Foro Penal, a human rights group in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is still holding 342 political prisoners.
Leopoldo López, a former presidential candidate who has been a political prisoner since 2014, was also under house arrest. He was accused of inciting violence during anti-government protests. Venezuelan officials stopped his pregnant wife, Lilian Tintori, from leaving the country, and seized her passport.
The U.S. and the European Union continue to impose sanctions on the oil-rich county. Diplomats have been citing human rights violations, and hold Maduro responsible for the treatment of political prisoners. Maduro consolidated power by establishing an assembly that overwrites congressional powers.