February 20, 2018 / 2:16 PM / 4 months ago

INTERVIEW-Ex-mayor of Caracas says opposition won't take part in Venezuela elections

* Ledezma escaped from house arrest in November

* Calls elections a “trap” set by president

* Venezuelans fleeing violence, hunger and hyperinflation

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The opposition will not field a candidate in Venezuela’s April 22 presidential election, the exiled mayor of Caracas said, calling the vote a “trap” set by President Nicolas Maduro.

Antonio Ledezma, put under house arrest in 2015 for allegedly plotting a coup before escaping to Colombia in November, called for a United Nations probe into human rights violations in the OPEC nation and more humanitarian aid.

“It’s not a boycott. We are rather ignoring a trap. We cannot call it an election, because we know it is going to be a fraud,” Ledezma told Reuters in Geneva, where he was attending a human rights meeting organised by the group UN Watch.

“Yes, the election has united the opposition because we have a shared opinion that this election is just one more lie from the government,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

The country of 30 million is close to economic collapse, with inflation of more than 2,000 percent last year and millions without enough to eat.

Critics say the election is a farce, with Maduro’s main rivals barred from standing and a compliant election body bound to favour the ruling socialists. Maduro denies the system is undemocratic.

“There will be no official candidate from the opposition. From the government what we’ve seen is repression against the heads of the opposition because they don’t want to participate as that legitimises the process,” said Ledezma, who is now based in Spain.


“The real opposition is the people - the millions of Venezuelans who want clear and transparent elections which were denied us.

“The last thing we saw was the government closing the door to dialogue in our faces,” he said, referring to talks between the government and an opposition coalition held in the Dominican Republic in December.

Ledezma met separately in Geneva on Monday with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), to ask for support.

“I asked the High Commissioner also to send a commission to Venezuela so that they can be witness to the human rights violations that happen daily,” he said, citing anti-government protests last year during which more than 125 people were killed.

“The long queue, caravans of migrants trying to leave the country, that’s a sign of protests. There are no queues in front of the supermarkets, because there is no food left in supermarkets.”

More humanitarian aid is needed, but the crisis cannot be solved through relief supplies alone, he said, adding: “With the food and drug crisis in Venezuela, any aid would be like putting a bandaid on a broken leg.” (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Andrew Roche)

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