'We have learned to breathe underwater'
Antonio Ledezma, the metropolitan mayor of Caracas and one of the most important figures in the Venezuelan opposition movement, has spent more than 15 months under house arrest, incommunicado. He has yet to receive a trial.
His wife, Mitzy Capriles, and their four children are constantly protesting his situation and that of other Venezuelan political prisoners, and demanding their release.
DIARIO DE CUBA spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum with Antonietta Ledezma, the youngest daughter of the Venezuelan opposition leader, about her father's trial, the crisis in the South American country, and the opposition's options.
What is daily life like for a man with a public profile like your father, deprived of his freedom and held incommunicado?
It is very hard, because a man like Antonio Ledezma, the country's second most important authority, the metropolitan mayor, is the world's only mayor of a capital who is imprisoned.
The only "crime" Antonio Ledezma committed was opposing this dictatorship. They want to silence him. They've shut him up for one year and three months already, completely isolated from the world, a politician and active leader who has dedicated his life to the struggle for Venezuela, the fight for democracy.
They have turned our home into a prison, fully taken over by the SEBIN [Bolivarian Intelligence Service] and the police. They don't let him look out a window, or get any sunlight. And, of course, they don´t allow him access to any of his social networks, which my mother, to her credit, has taken it upon herself to run.
Everything is recorded, absolutely everything said at my house is recorded by the SEBIN. But my father is a man of infinite strength, and has created a routine that has allowed him to not fall apart under such dire circumstances. He finds solace in reading, and he writes a lot.
What is the current status of Ledezma's case, from a legal point of view?
It is in limbo. There was supposed to be a preliminary hearing 45 days after his arrest, but it took place a year later, when the public prosecutor sought to accuse my father of criminal association and conspiracy. The trial is utterly political.
In Venezuela the legal system is used to intimidate and frighten, in an effort to silence people. These two charges together carry a penalty of 26 years in prison. The judge is ducking his responsibility, as until today there has been no proof supporting these false accusations, leveled by two people: President Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello.
My father has not received a trial, which is his right as a Venezuelan. We are in the hands of mercenaries, who, unfortunately, we must call judges and prosecutors.
How is your father's health?
A year ago he underwent an operation because he had another hernia. When he was taken they did so in a very violent way, so the hernia he had the year before came back.
Thank God, he is now fully recovered from the operation, his health is very good, and he remains indefatigable, and in good spirits. My dad is like a rock, and he is totally convinced that he is doing the right thing.
How has life changed for you and your family since he was arrested?
Our family dynamics have been turned upside down. I, as the daughter of a politician, was always afraid, especially as the daughter of a dissident under a dictatorship. I was always afraid that he would end up in jail. We knew that the men and women in Venezuela today who oppose this tyranny are thrown behind bars.
Then, one day we woke up - we saw it coming, as my father had been followed for 30 days, and accused by the SEBIN - and our nightmare had come true.
But this has also helped us to fight so that what I am going through as a daughter, and what my mother is suffering, as a wife, and my siblings, does not happen again, anywhere in the world. This has really united us as a family, and we have learned, as our father has always told us, to breathe underwater.
We have found great spiritual strength, which helps us to move forward on this very trying path. I now know, and I say with great pride, that I am the daughter of a political prisoner, and I know that the darker it gets, the closer the dawn is in my country.
What support have you received?
We have received a lot of support internationally, especially in Latin American countries, in Spain, in Europe. The European Parliament has spoken out in support of the Venezuelan opposition, because the sun can't be covered up with a finger.
In Venezuela today there are more political prisoners than in Cuba, which is something that Nicolás Maduro's Government, inspired by Chávez, cannot hide. In this regard, thank God, we have had a lot of support and expressions of solidarity, internationally and within Venezuela. We are not asking for pity, but solidarity.
You sent a letter to President Jose Mujica (Uruguay). Did you get an answer?
The truth is that I am still waiting for one. I had read the book [Una oveja negra al poder, by the journalists Andrés Danza and Ernesto Tulbovitz]. Regardless of their somewhat disparate ideologies, he was a political prisoner. I wrote to him as the daughter of a political prisoner.
I know that he is a politician who, to a degree, supported and supports the dictatorial Government of the late Chávez, and now the dictator Maduro. But, ironically, a few days ago ex-president Mujica said that Maduro was mad as a hatter. So, I'm still awaiting a response.
I have sent the letter to absolutely everyone I can think of that could get it to him. I do believe that he has received it. I am still waiting.
In the meantime, I know that I have done my duty as a Venezuelan. I will continue doing what I have to do, and I will keep on appealing to the authorities that I must, just like my mother, and I will keep writing letters until I secure freedom, not only for my father, but for Venezuela.
Are you familiar with the Damas de Blanco, in Cuba? Do you think there are similarities between what is happening on the Island them and what the Venezuelan opposition is going through?
Of course there are similarities. Cuban and Venezuelan society have more in common than ever in their histories. Both are hungry for change, tired of being oppressed by tyrannical governments.
In Venezuela we have mothers who have lost children, and lost husbands, who have relatives unjustly behind bars, or missing, and the justice system has failed to respond to people, or to fulfill its responsibility.
I think it's important for the Cuban and Venezuelan oppositions to exchange these stories, as both countries are basically suffering (Cuba for a lot longer) the same thing.
The Castroist government, cruelly, has allied with the Venezuelan dictatorship, which has destroyed the Venezuelan economy and society, just as the Castro regime did in Cuba.
We don't buy the talk about "dialogue," because you cannot negotiate with people who have acted as cruelly as Castro, Nicolás Maduro, or Diosdado Cabello.
Life has many twists and turns, and when it is our turn to get the justice we deserve, we will give them a lesson, because we won't do it in the same way, with the impunity with which they acted towards us, but with rectitude, because we are on the right side of history.
The chavistas have taken every step possible to curtail the powers of the National Assembly, and they are also making every effort to prevent the referendum to depose Maduro. What options does the opposition have left?
We are not going to back down. The only outcomes we will settle for are democratic, civic and peaceful. We will continue to call for the referendum, which is provided for under the Constitution, and to exhaust every possible peaceful and democratic channel. We are not going to play their game.
On December 6 we won a majority in the Assembly. Now there is a clash of powers. The Supreme Court wants to silence the Assembly. We don't care. This is just the tantrum of a loser.
We know that the Government is totally cornered, and that they will always claim that the opposition seeks a violent and unconstitutional end to this dictatorship, but we have done nothing but take to the streets in a peaceful way, to demand what belongs to us in an appropriate way, which is a referendum to depose Maduro.
In fact, Maduro must know that his days are numbered. His term as president not only failed, and dragged the country into ruin, but is already on its final stretch.
What do you think drives Maduro: revenge for the prestige the opposition has managed to obtain, or fear of political prisoners like your father?
I think it's a bit of both. Maduro is terrified of the international movement generated by the opposition, thanks to Lilian Tintori [wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López], my mother, and others. They are terrified because they know that the day they lose power they will be cornered, not only by the Venezuelan justice system, but also by international justice authorities.
The way they have proceeded in a country with 100 political prisoners, where there is only partial democracy, and no equal opportunity, only reveals a Government that is afraid of a stronger opposition government.
And this is just a political question. On December 6 there were people who had been sympathetic to the Government, but they voted for the opposition, because in Venezuela there is not just a humanitarian crisis ... but a genuine catastrophe.
So, I think that what the Government most fears is the international reputation it has lost, and the unity amongst the opposition, unprecedented in the last 18 years. If there is anything I can say with confidence it is that we are more united than ever today, because we share a common cause, which is to take back our country. They intend to take it away from us, but we will not let them.
My mother is going back to Venezuela. I know that they will probably harass her at the airport. Every time I leave or arrive they harass me. But we know that those are just ways to try to silence us, precisely because they fear us speaking out with a common voice internationally.