BOGOTA, Colombia

In his first press conference from Madrid, Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez said Tuesday that he did not want to leave his country and that his intention is “to return to free Venezuela.”  

“I did not want to leave Venezuela. I always said so. Unfortunately, the circumstances led me to this,” he said after calling Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a “criminal” and his government a “dictatorship.” 

After his meeting earlier in the day with Spanish President Pedro Sanchez, Lopez said that Spain and Europe will not recognize parliamentary elections in Venezuela scheduled for Dec. 6.  

“The position of Spain and Europe will be the same as in 2018 with those fraudulent elections that were not recognized,” he said.  

Lopez also insisted on expanding European sanctions on Venezuela. 

“We are going to bring to all European governments the list of 56 people identified in the last UN report on people responsible for human rights violations, torture, repression and killings so that they can be sanctioned by Europe and a very clear strategy can be promoted that allows sanctions to be a lever of pressure,” he said. 

Lopez, who was sheltering at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas for 18 months, fled the country and arrived in Spain on Monday.  

“Like 5.5 million Venezuelans, I leave Venezuela with a heavy heart, sad to leave the land of my birth, which I love,” he said during the press conference.  

“But to those 5.5 million who have left, I say: Let us have faith, let us have the conviction that we will return to Venezuela, to the free Venezuela we deserve.” 

Lopez took refuge at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in April 2019 after participating in a failed military uprising aimed at ousting Maduro. 

He insisted that his departure was not the result of negotiations with Maduro’s government. 

“Do you think Maduro was going to negotiate my exit? Only five of us knew about it. Not even my wife knew,” he said. 

“I planned the exit with the people who helped me, whom I will protect and to whom I have a deep and great appreciation.” 

It is unclear how Lopez left the country, but he is believed to have crossed the border into Colombia. He then headed to Madrid, where his wife and three children live. 

The Venezuelan government accused the Spanish ambassador to Venezuela, Jesus Silva, of being “complicit” in the escape of the opposition leader. 

“It is clearly verifiable that the head of the Spanish diplomatic mission in Venezuela acted as the main organizer and confessed accomplice of the announced escape from Venezuelan territory of the criminal Leopoldo Lopez,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. 

Lopez was sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison after being convicted of inciting violence during anti-government protests in which three people died and many were wounded.

He was placed under house arrest after many years in a military jail, but those guarding him let him go free.

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