Spanish – Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López is already in Spain with his family. His departure from the country, which took place this Saturday, was reportedly authorized by the Nicolás Maduro regime after notification from the Spanish Embassy at the Miraflores Palace. But the approval of the dictatorship was not a spontaneous decision. It was an agreement with the United States, brokered at a secret meeting held in September in Mexico, a source told the PanAm Post.
The unofficial meeting between Chavista official Jorge Rodríguez and the White House envoy Richard Grenell took place on September 17 in the outskirts of Mexico City. The meeting discussed issues such as the release of the Citgo directors, detained in Venezuela in November 2017 -under house arrest since December 2019- and the authorization for Leopoldo López to leave the country.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had sent Grenell to meet with Rodríguez in Mexico. His goal was to pressure Nicolás Maduro’s exit from power and score another diplomatic victory before the elections. The New York newspaper said there was no evidence that Trump’s envoy’s trip had had any effect in facilitating a peaceful transition in Venezuela.
Richard Grenell is a close ally of President Trump. He has held important positions in the administration. He was acting director of National Intelligence, Ambassador to Germany, and was in charge of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, which led to the restoration of relations between these two countries.
Attempts at negotiation
The Bloomberg news agency, which also released the information that was leaked about this meeting, added that Grenell followed direct orders from Trump. According to this publication, neither the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, nor the special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, were aware of it.
This is not the first time that representatives from Washington and Caracas have met to attempt a negotiation. The house arrest benefit that Leopoldo López received in 2017 after spending three and a half years in the military prison of Ramo Verde also became a reality thanks to the efforts of the United States. Jorge Rodríguez and his sister, the current vice president of the regime, Delcy Rodríguez, were Maduro’s envoys.
Before the failed “Operation Freedom” of April 30, 2019, Jorge Rodríguez held a meeting with the special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams. On that occasion, no agreement was reached. Then, the opposition set in motion the failed plan that allowed Leopoldo López to be released from his house arrest. When the operation failed, he ended up taking refuge in the Spanish Embassy in Caracas.
Mistrust due to change of ambassador
Leopoldo López remained a guest at the diplomatic headquarters for a year and a half until this Saturday, October 24. According to information received by the PanAm Post, the leader of the Popular Will announced his desire to leave the embassy when he learned that Madrid would change the current ambassador for one closer to the socialist government of Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias.
This would have been one of the last steps taken by Ambassador Jesús Silva, who will be replaced by Juan Fernández Trigo, the current Spanish Ambassador to Cuba. Jesús Silva was designated as Ambassador to Caracas in 2017 by the government of Mariano Rajoy.
The change of ambassador was announced amid the failed negotiation between Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, and the Maduro regime to achieve the dispatch of an electoral observation mission to Venezuela to endorse the parliamentary elections. The agreement was not possible due to Chavismo’s refusal to postpone the elections.
The Chavista justice system sentenced Leopoldo López to almost 14 years in a rigged trial. The regime accuses him of being responsible for the violence that occurred during the demonstration on February 12, 2014, which left three dead and dozens wounded.
This demonstration was part of the “La Salida” movement, which lasted a month and left 43 dead. Both the prosecutor in the case, Franklin Nieves, and the attorney general at the time, Luis Ortega Díaz, have acknowledged that there were serious irregularities in the process against Leopoldo López.
Leopoldo López is already in Spain
According to the information released by El Mundo, López reportedly escaped this Saturday across the Colombian border. The Venezuelan opposition leader arrived on Sunday at midday, Spanish time, at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport.
According to Infobae, López moved promptly with the help of the authorities to his family’s residence in the Spanish capital, avoiding public appearances. Immediately after the meeting with his wife and children, he published the photo on his Instagram account without adding any comments.
The United States celebrates López’s release
Shortly after López departed from Venezuelan territory, the virtual U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a statement celebrating the event. “We are happy to finally see Leopoldo López free. The illegitimate regime has hundreds of political and military prisoners, prisoners who merely disagree politically with Maduro. They represent a threat to him because the people are with them, and they have the audacity to ask for the rights enshrined in the constitution,” the communiqué from the U.S. Embassy reads.