By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Antonio Ledezma, the former Caracas mayor and political prisoner who escaped Friday, taunted embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro Monday about some heavy criticism that came Sunday from a very influential member of Maduro’s own “chavista” ranks.
“I wonder if Maduro is going to raid the house of Jose Vicente Rangel for having spoken yesterday (Monday) in a TV show about the economic crisis Venezuelans are living through,” Ledezma said from Madrid, where he met Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over the weekend, during a press conference Monday.
The importance of Rangel’s comments on Sunday cannot be understated: a former Vice President, foreign and defense minister, Rangel was a key and early supporter of Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, whom he never criticized in public. Rangel, or JVR, entered Venezuelan politics in the late 1950s: a lawyer by training, he proved an effective kingmaker with Chavez, but failed to become President himself after running for the post several times in the 1970s and 1980s.
The high cost of living under Maduro has Venezuelans “against the wall”, Rangel said on Sunday, in a surprising about face about more than half a century supporting left wing ideology and political projects. “The cost of living is unbearable. It is impossible to stay quiet in the face of the phenomenon that is lashing out against all inhabitants of this country, without exception, or social and political distinguishing. We Venezuelans are against the wall,” Rangel said in lamenting the out of control economy, hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and, remarkably, the lack of a government response to the happenings.
“What surprise shall the near future hold in store for us if there isn’t an answer to what is happening, if there are no clear policies that are shown to be adequate. At this point in the crisis, it is impossible to live off illusions which hail from promises that have been repeatedly frustrated.”
As for the “raid” Ledezma refers to, local media say as many as 18 of the mayor’s acquaintances have been arrested after his escape, including former neighbors (he was in house arrest, awaiting trial for taking an ad in a newspaper in 2015), municipal employees, some former employees and, of course, a dozen officers in the security detail guarding his residence.
Ledezma’s mayorial replacement, Metropolitan mayor in charge Helen Fernandez, called the numerous post-escape raids surrounding the Ledezma household and persona as “a witch hunt” also on Monday in Twitter. Fernandez identified three of the arrested by name: Carlos Luna, Elizabeth Cardenas and Carmen Catalina Andarcia.
In a display of derring-do, the 62 year old Ledezma arrived Saturday in Spain after leaving his house in Caracas, crossing the border into Colombia and taking a plane from there to Madrid. The 800 kilometers from East Caracas to the border he traversed with the “aid of some in the military” he told assembled media upon his arrival in Madrid on Saturday.
Ledezma had been shuffling between house arrest, hospitals and lengthy stays in the notorious “Ramo Verde” military prison outside Caracas since February 2015 when he was arrested for publishing an ad in a local newspaper the government considered “instigation to commit a crime”: he was basically asking for Maduro to step down, plus outlining proposals for a transitional administration.