What will happen to Venezuela

Spectacular escape : Why Maduro's opponent in Berlin is fighting for Venezuela

Konstantin Kuhle is surprised. Actually, Leopoldo López should only come with two companions, now there are six men, together with his own people this could be a bit difficult under Corona conditions.

The FDP MP welcomes López, who is persecuted as an enemy of the state in Venezuela, in Spanish. For him, "Como estás", "How are you", has a very special meaning after what he has been through.

The three well-built companions with buttons in their ears are bodyguards for the LKA, they will finally wait in front of the conference room in the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus of the Bundestag.

Even after his escape, López cannot be sure, he has been living in Madrid for a few months and is now also fighting in Berlin to ensure that Nicolás Maduro in the shadow of the pandemic does not completely turn Venezuela into a dictatorship and that at some point there will be free elections and a way out the humanitarian catastrophe can give.

In his relentlessness, but also in his stature, he is reminiscent of the Russian oppositionist Alexej Navalny, whose fate he follows spellbound and whose messages he repeatedly shares on Twitter.

The 49-year-old López is the head of the leading opposition party Voluntad Popular (“People's Will”), with 5.3 million people following him on Twitter alone. But he is not undisputed in his home country because of his actions, and he is also considered a representative of the wealthy elite. He was the leader of the 2014 mass protests against the socialist President Maduro. There were several deaths, he was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison and was sent to the notorious Ramo Verde military prison.

His wife Lilian Tintori, a former kitesurfing master, took on his role on the street, fighting for his freedom. She traveled to Pope Francis in the Vatican, was received by Donald Trump in the White House. Since 2017, López has been allowed to stay in house arrest, with security guards always abundant in front of the house.

When the new president of the parliament, which was still controlled by the opposition at the time, was to be elected from among his party’s ranks, the election fell on Juan Guaidó, López was under arrest. After Guaidó declared himself interim president a little later and more than 50 countries recognized him, Maduro was about to fall.

Guaido was also so popular because he focused on peaceful change, more balancing and less polarizing than López in previous years.

During those chaotic weeks in Caracas, López was freed from arrest by renegade military personnel, showed up at mass rallies - but ultimately fled first to the Chilean and then to the Spanish embassy. He lived there until October 2020, around 20 secret service people before that.

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The spectacular escape

"I was isolated and the embassy was completely surrounded," he says in room 6.556 of the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, the so-called aquarium, with a view of the Reichstag building, the sky in Berlin's winter gray cut the light, turned off the water and kept increasing the pressure. ”How did he get out of that?

Little is known about this so far. "I can tell you that I didn't get any support from the Spanish because I didn't want to compromise."

His escape led to serious diplomatic upheavals between Caracas and Madrid. “So I planned for a month. And then I left Venezuela by crossing the entire area in a costume, a disguise. "

He does not reveal details of how he got out of the embassy, ​​probably hidden in a car. "I had a passport, we had a vehicle, we had all kinds of cover-up tactics, pretending to be workers in an electricity company."

When they crossed the border with Colombia, on the Caribbean coast there are many secret routes through the territory of indigenous people past the official turnpike, López was free - by flight to his wife and children in Madrid.

He thinks again about the life-threatening escape, suddenly asks: "Do you know Argo?" That was the inspiration. It is a US thriller about six Americans in Iran who escaped when they stormed the embassy in 1979 and were able to take refuge in the Canadian embassy. But how do you get out of the country from there? With new papers, they finally became Canadian filmmakers who, with official permission, were looking for locations for a science fiction film in Iran, and who, with this camouflage, managed to get out of Iran with a lot of luck and a dramatic finale.

The fall of the wall as inspiration

In the aquarium, López has Konstantin Kuhle and the FDP MP Ulrich Lechte, who organized the meeting, show López the former course of the wall. "Changes can happen, things that seemed to be there forever can change in seconds," says López.

The once richest country in Latin America with the world's largest oil reserves is shaken by hunger, high murder rates and repression by the police and motorcycle gangs. The highest inflation in the world, the gross domestic product slumped by over 80 percent in the last five years. "Today it is on par with Trinidad and Tobago," says López. Approval for the regime is ensured through food cards and other benefits. The gold reserves are melting, in some cases oil has to be imported from Iran because of ailing production facilities, but the cocaine trade is a good source of foreign currency.

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More kleptocracy than socialism

Much has little to do with socialism. It is more of a kleptocracy, the military controls many areas of the economy. It is estimated that 8.1 million Venezuelans would be living abroad by the end of the year, most of them in Colombia, says López. In Germany, too, over 2000 asylum applications were submitted by Venezuelan refugees between 2015 and 2020; the recognition rate is relatively high at 40 to 50 percent.

According to the distribution key for applicants, Saxony is responsible. Venezuelans were in first place there in 2019 with a share of 11.4 percent, according to a report by the association “Unity for Venezuela”. Even if the world has turned its eyes a little away from this most serious crisis in Latin America, the rift is already running right through the Bundestag. Several left-wing MPs are loyal to Maduro.

Corona stops protests

López was also in the Foreign Office, with State Secretary Nils Annen (SPD), because the situation is a bit hopeless for the opposition, which has now largely been eliminated, thanks to the support of Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba and Iran for the Maduro regime - and Germany a key state for possible mediation in the conflict, which is far more than domestic politics, it is also about mineral resources and solid geostrategic interests in the backyard of the USA. López alleges that opposition MPs were bought by the socialists with large sums of money, and that Juan Guaidó has to change his apartment almost every day for fear of reprisals. And because of Corona, mass protests on the street are not possible at the moment. The frustration over the stabilization of the regime leads to hopelessness. "We have to bring the momentum back."

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Is Guaidó still interim president?

Due to the internationally unrecognized parliamentary election of December 6th, the socialists now dominate the parliament again - Guaidó is no longer the parliamentary president, on this basis he had proclaimed himself to be free and fair elections in 2019 because of the presidential election also classified as unlawful.

The opposition has set up a parallel parliament with Guaidó at its head, but it is powerless and is being harassed. From the point of view of the FDP politician and Venezuela expert Ulrich Lechte, it is an important signal that López continues to stand by Guaidó and does not try from abroad to advertise himself as the coming man after a change.

The opposition is divided and controversial

Because part of the truth is that the opposition in Venezuela, perceived by many to be elitist, has repeatedly weakened itself through its internal quarrels, the dispute over means and tactics against Maduro. And many poor have profited greatly from the policies of the socialists.

The European Parliament and states such as the USA, Great Britain, Uruguay and Canada continue to recognize Guaidó as interim president. In response to Lechte's request, the Federal Foreign Office emphasized: “Neither the European Union nor the Federal Government will recognize the result of the parliamentary elections on December 6, 2020.

The position of the federal government has not changed as a result. "The democratic forces in Venezuela, led by Juan Guaidó, continue to be supported with the aim of" promoting a way out of the crisis through free, fair and credible presidential and parliamentary elections. " that is not a clear commitment.

"I also expect a clear and unequivocal commitment from the federal government to recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela," says Lechte, because there is institutional continuity because of the illegitimate election.

The FDP wants to continue to put pressure on this - López is not only relying on the new US President Joe Biden but also on the EU in order to bring about a turnaround. “We need Europe on the democratic side,” says López. And you also need financial help.

One last look at the Reichstag, a free, democratic parliament. Then he must continue to advertise that the fight for Venezuela will not be forgotten.

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