Mayors Without Borders

With Antonio Ledezma’s escape to freedom, the list of Venezuelan public officials fleeing from political persecution grows ever larger. Here's a rundown of the exiled mayor's club.

The details of Antonio Ledezma’s escape belong more to an action movie than to the life of a public servant. Maybe for people outside of Venezuela it’s hard to image a former mayor running and hiding at the border with Colombia, but after being imprisoned for over two years, it probably was the happiest ending, one he thought he’d never get.

From Madrid, he went over the details. He spent days studying the moves of his guards. On the day of the escape, Thursday, November 16th, the mandatory picture of him in house arrest was taken at 7:10 a.m. He went jogging with two guards and, at 8:30 in the morning, he was already in a car with three guys and a “very brave woman.” The journey would take 22 hours and 30 security checkpoints.

It wasn’t over until the next morning, at 6:30 a.m., when he reached the border. A woman recognized him but a soldier told him to “go and keep on fighting.” Once abroad, he received a call from president Santos, took a private plane to Bogotá and caught a commercial flight to Madrid, with his family.

Ledezma is far from being the only Venezuelan mayor forced into exile. Just months earlier, the mayor of El Hatillo, David Smolansky, fled to Brazil after the Supreme Tribunal ordered his detention. Ramón Muchacho, mayor of Chacao, also left Venezuela around the same time and, even with an arrest warrant with his name on it and no passport, he got to the U.S.

“We took the nontraditional way out”, he said to CNN.

“I feel like they took a part of my life but I am lucky to be alive and free” Muchacho said to Univisión.

Gustavo Marcano also escaped from Venezuela. After his stint as mayor of Lecherías, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail and decided to flee. “We took the nontraditional way out,” he said to CNN, already in the U.S., and he remained mysterious about the escape itself. After being accused by the government of supporting hooliganism in this year’s protests, Marcano moved from one place to another, trying to baffle the police, hiding with diplomats while the SEBIN was on his trail. A sadder story happened to the mayor of Campo Elías, Omar Lares, who realized the danger he was in during a police raid to his office, on July 30th. When the state agents didn’t find him, “they went for my son, a Colombian citizen. They wanted to swap him for me.”

Lares crossed the Simón Bolívar International Bridge to Colombia, where he remains while his son is detained. He has no money for a work visa and now lives with a friend, dreaming of going back to Mérida. He has seen many of his countrymen cross the border, some for food, others for a new life. For now, he just wants a job, a house and his son back with him.

“I hope he’s released” he laments. “He didn’t do anything. His only crime is being my kid.”