MADRID (AFP) - The former mayor of Caracas, a staunch opponent of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, arrived in Madrid early Saturday (Nov 18) after escaping house arrest and fleeing to Colombia.
Antonio Ledezma, 62, managed to cross the border on Friday, saying he would now help organise resistance to Maduro's increasingly authoritarian rule which has left millions facing food and medicine shortages.
From Bogota, he flew to the Spanish capital where he was met by his wife and his two daughters as well as former Colombian president Andres Pastrana.
A lawyer by profession, Ledezma was arrested and jailed in February 2015 over allegations he was plotting to overthrow the president, and had been under house arrest since August following surgery.
"Venezuela is not at the edge of an abyss, it's at the bottom of the abyss: it is collapsing," he said on arriving at Madrid's Barajas airport.
Ledezma said he plans to travel the world to demonstrate "the hope of all Venezuelans to finish with this regime, this dictatorship," and accused Maduro's government of "colluding with drug traffickers".
He said Friday he had fled Caracas because Venezuelan military and intelligence officials had informed him of a "government plan" against him, though he provided no details.
Oil-rich but cash-poor Venezuela is facing a deepening political and economic crisis as Maduro has moved to marginalise opposition forces, which control the country's legislature, and stifle independent media.
This month the government signed a deal with Russia to restructure foreign debt of some US$150 billion (S$203 billion) after it was hit hard by falling oil prices and sanctions imposed by Washington, which has labelled Madura a "dictator".