BOGOTA – Colombian immigration officials confirmed on Friday that prominent Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma entered the neighboring country after escaping house arrest in his homeland.
“Mr. Antonio Ledezma, who had served as metropolitan mayor of Caracas until 2015, entered the country Friday morning from Venezuela,” Migracion Colombia said in a statement.
It added that Ledezma crossed into Colombian territory overland via the Simon Bolivar International Bridge; arrived in the town of Villa del Rosario, Norte de Santander province; and had already completed the necessary immigration procedures and paperwork.
The opposition leader for his part sent a message to the Venezuelan people in which he urged them not to lose hope.
“This is a time for cool-headedness. We can’t lose heart,” Ledezma told reporters at the Camilo Daza International Airport in Cucuta, Colombia, in what were his first remarks since crossing the border.
Venezuelan daily El Nacional reported earlier Friday that Ledezma, under house arrest since 2015, had fled to Colombia and said his likely final destination was a country in Europe. His wife, Mitzy Capriles, is currently living in Madrid.
Ledezma, founder of the Fearless People’s Alliance (ABP) party, was arrested on Feb. 19, 2015, for allegedly plotting violence against Venezuela’s leftist government in connection with deadly street protests in 2014.
He was initially jailed at the Ramo Verde military prison but then placed under house arrest two months later for health reasons. The opposition leader, who had not yet been put on trial, was barred from expressing himself publicly.
Ledezma also was suspended from his position as metropolitan mayor of Caracas, forcing him to delegate his authority to Helen Fernandez, also a member of the ABP.
The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, reacted to the news on Twitter.
“Greetings to Antonio Ledezma, a moral leader in #Venezuela who is now free to lead the struggle from exile to install a democratic system in his country,” the Uruguayan wrote.
Opponents of Venezuela’s leftist president, Nicolas Maduro, have suffered major blows in recent months.
The unicameral opposition-controlled National Assembly has been effectively sidelined by a recently installed plenipotentiary National Constituent Assembly, a body made up exclusively of Maduro’s allies.
The opposition then stumbled to a lopsided defeat in regional elections last month, with Maduro’s allies defying the polls to win a vast majority of governor’s offices (18 out of 23) despite the oil-rich nation’s political turmoil and a severe economic crisis that includes runaway inflation and shortages of medicine and basic foodstuffs.