CARACAS – Venezuelan opposition party Justice First (PJ) dismissed on Thursday the acting mayor of Caracas, Helen Fernandez, a move that comes a week after the official mayor Antonio Ledezma, who had held that post until his arrest in 2015, fled the country.
The members of the Caracas Metropolitan Council, where the PJ party holds a majority of seats, declared the permanent absence of Ledezma, who has fled to Spain, and dismissed Fernandez, who had replaced him on an interim basis.
They also temporarily designated Ali Mansour as new acting mayor of Caracas until a new session can be held to name the official to serve out what would have been the remainder of Ledezma’s term.
Fernandez slammed the move, saying that Ledezma continues to be the mayor of Caracas in the eyes of the world and the Venezuelan people and that the PJ’s decision is “incomprehensible and infuriating.”
The PJ is the party of two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
Ledezma, the founder of the opposition Fearless People’s Alliance (ABP) party who escaped house arrest last Friday and fled to Colombia before flying to Spain to be reunited with his family, posted a message on Twitter after hearing the news.
“I’m the legitimate metropolitan mayor of Caracas, re-elected by citizens and trampled on by a dictatorship that always boycotted my administration ... I’m grateful for the loyalty and efficient work carried out by Helen Fernandez,” tweeted Ledezma, who was first elected mayor in 2009 and re-elected four years later.
The opposition leader was arrested on Feb. 19, 2015, for allegedly plotting violence against the Nicolas Maduro-led Venezuelan government in connection with deadly street protests in 2014.
He was initially jailed at Ramo Verde military prison, but then placed under house arrest two months later for health reasons.
Ledezma had not yet been put on trial at the time of his escape.
Maduro’s opponents are trying to regroup after suffering major blows in recent months.
The unicameral opposition-controlled National Assembly has been 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 marked by runaway inflation and shortages of medicine and basic foodstuffs.