Antonio Ledezma, lawyer, politician, Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and, until yesterday, a political prisoner of chavismo, has become one of Venezuela’s icons of struggle; after broadcasting a message last July, on which he threw darts at the government and the MUD, he positioned himself as a sane voice with a clear perspective on what is poisoning our politics. His was a voice of coherence, despite the danger he brought upon himself.
His career, however, dates from way before tyranny. Four decades have seen him go from his political grassroot work, in the 1970s, to his arrest in 2015, and few have been witnesses and players in all this turmoil as he has.
This is Antonio Ledezma and his crusade:
Born in San Juan de Los Morros on May 1st, 1955, Antonio Ledezma enrolled in Juventud Acción Democrática (Acción Democrática Youth) and rose to the party’s National Executive Committee, becoming sub-secretary of Guárico’s Legislative Assembly by 1975. He was barely 20 years old. After getting his law degree in 1982, he ran for the now-extinct Chamber of Deputies, becoming a lawmaker in 1984. During this term, he was part of the special committee in charge of drafting the Anti-drug Law, and was re-elected to the Chamber in 1989 and was a member of the special committee for the creation of two new federal states (Amazonas and Delta Amacuro).
Leopoldo López, Carlos Melo and Yon Goicoechea were included in his cabinet. They would all become political prisoners.
Although it’s hard to imagine this now, Venezuela had other presidents. In 1992, Carlos Andrés Pérez appointed Ledezma as Governor of the Federal District of Venezuela, which consisted of our current Vargas and the Capital District, an office he held until 1993, when Pérez was removed from office. In 1995, he became Mayor of the Libertador Municipality, implementing policies to deal with hawkers and street vendors.
The Mercado de la Hoyada was demolished and the Bus Terminal of La Bandera built during his term. He also campaigned for the construction of Subway Line 4. His tenure should’ve ended in 1998 but municipal elections were postponed to 1999, when Ledezma aspired to become secretary general of Acción Democrática, but ended up founding Alianza Bravo Pueblo.
Then Chávez was elected president.
Between 2001 and 2007, Antonio focused on his studies, obtaining his post-graduate degree in Public Management. In 2008, he ran for Caracas’s Metropolitan Mayorship, beating PSUV candidate Aristóbulo Istúriz. Leopoldo López, Carlos Melo and Yon Goicoechea were included in his cabinet. They would all become political prisoners.
Now Chávez, being who he was, cut State funding for the Metropolitan Mayor’s Office early after those elections. Ledezma started a hunger strike before OAS offices in Caracas, and the president responded by mocking the voice of the people, appointing the first of what would be many parallel institutions, all created when voting went “wrong” for him. Much to his chagrin, Ledezma was re-elected in 2013, beating PSUV candidate Ernesto Villegas.
In February 2015, Ledezma was arrested by SEBIN agents at his office. Nicolás Maduro said that the Prosecutor’s Office (under Luisa Ortega Díaz, never forget) had indicted him for participating in a conspiracy against his government (Operación Jericó). He was imprisoned in Ramo Verde, until granted house arrest a year later. Mitzy Capriles, his second and current wife, campaigned consistently for his release and became his spokesperson, using his Twitter account to report on his condition, whereabouts and perspectives.
Yesterday, we woke up to the news that Ledezma had escaped his house arrest and made it to Colombia. Much of this remains a mystery, and there are plenty of reasons for skepticism, but be that as it may, I celebrate that the government has one less prisoner to use as a bargaining chip. Whatever ideas could have been inspired by Ledezma’s political career and actions, he’s still one of the most experienced Venezuelan politicians of our time and an unwavering enemy of the dictatorship.
And in this regard, he promises to never give up.