CARACAS — Prominent Venezuelan opposition activist Leopoldo López slipped across the border into Colombia on Saturday, political allies said, after more than a year inside the Spanish Embassy in Caracas following the failure of a plot to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.
López, the political mentor of current Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, is likely to continue efforts for Maduro's ouster from self-exile even as Guaidó struggles to make inroads against Maduro's grip on power.
"All our time and energy will be to be useful to the people in the pursuit of freedom," López tweeted Saturday. "Venezuelans, this decision has not been easy, but rest assured that you have this server to fight from any space.
"We will not rest, and we will continue working day and night to achieve the freedom that all Venezuelans deserve."
Few details were immediately available about how López, a former mayor in the Caracas area, made his way to Colombia, the base for some anti-Maduro groups.
Guaidó, in a tweet, said López was in "international territory" but did not elaborate. "Maduro, you don't control anything," Guaidó wrote, adding that the opposition had succeeded in "mocking your repressive system" by getting López out of the embassy.
María Corina Machado, an influential opposition figure, also confirmed that the 49-year-old López was out of the country.
"I am very happy that Leopoldo López can meet again with his family in freedom," Machado tweeted.
Two people with direct knowledge of López's whereabouts, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive opposition matter, said he was in Colombia.
The Spanish news agency EFE, citing López's father, reported that López will travel to Spain, where his wife and their three children have lived since 2019.
López’s escape, first reported by Spanish newspaper El Mundo, comes six weeks before Maduro-backed legislative elections denounced by Venezuela’s opposition.
The elections, scheduled for Dec. 6, will expand the size of the National Assembly and could threaten Guaidó’s position as the chamber’s president — a role that he has used to boost his political legitimacy.
The United States and more than 50 other countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader after widespread accusations that Maduro rigged his reelection in 2018.
“Leopoldo needs to guarantee international support to Guaidó,” said Nicmer Evans, a political analyst and former political prisoner. “Leopoldo needs to be present in the U.S. and in Europe to keep the recognition of Guaidó as leader of Venezuela.”
Evans said López also has a chance to “recover his leadership” and possibly take a higher-profile role in the opposition to Maduro.
López was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to almost 14 years after being found guilty of instigating anti-Maduro demonstrations. He was granted house arrest in 2017.
In April 2019, López took refuge in the Spanish Embassy after helping lead a failed effort to induce the military to turn against Maduro.