Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of former Mayor of Caracas and political prisoner, Antonio Ledezma, addresses the 9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the arrest of her father Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Caracas:
“For the longest hours of my life, I didn’t know whether my father was being tortured, whether my father was alive and what was his situation.”
“The government has turned my house into a prison. We have 30 policemen constantly watching us and constantly recording every conversation. Twice a day, they photograph my father to make sure he has not escaped. We live in fear, never knowing when they will take him back to jail. Until today, he hasn’t had a sentence or a chance to defend himself. Because in my country there is no law, no separation of powers.”
“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of the people. I grew up listening to this from my father. But I never understood the real meaning until I watched him sacrifice his own freedom for his people.”
“I represent the youth of my country, I am 25 years old and I don’t know what freedom is… I had to leave my country because my life was in danger… I want to live in a country where I can have and build a family and I am not going to be treated differently because my father is a dissident.”
On turning fear into courage:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. “The brave man is not the one who’s not afraid, but the one who conquers that fear.” I still remember the first words my father told me quoting Nelson Mandela the first time I visit him in jail.”
“He’s the only mayor of the world who today is arbitrarily and illegally arrested and it’s been two years since, as the daughter of a political dissident, I’ve learned to transform this fear into courage.”
At UN Opening Event, Feb. 20, 2017:
“For Venezuelans it is very important to have this space [the Geneva Summit] to speak up because in our country we feel completely silenced, completely isolated. And for us to know that the world can listen to us is very very important.”
“Today in Venezuela we are suffering the cruelest dictatorship we have ever suffered in my country’s history.”
“Maduro is a man that has violated all democratic and human rights principles to maintain himself in power.”
“Today, what I ask all of you is that when you think about Venezuela, think about Antonio Ledezma. Think about our political prisoners and think that today we are having a dictatorship in Venezuela.”
“I will fight with my life and I will even sacrifice my own freedom to be able to say that I live in a free country.”
Thank you Jared, and thank you Hillel, UN Watch, and all the organisations who made this amazing event possible.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. “The brave man is not the one who’s not afraid, but the one who conquers that fear.” I still remember the first words my father told me quoting Nelson Mandela the first time I visited him in jail.
I am here with all of you to speak about the story of a man who, two years ago, sacrificed his freedom for his democratic beliefs and the story of a country that even in the darkest of our moments, we have never lost the ability to dream of freedom.
The past 19th of February of 2015, my father Antonio Ledezma, the former Mayor of Caracas, was abruptly and arbitrarily arrested by a 120 police, armed men who showed up in his office, came without a warrant for his arrest, without any sort of explanation to us, his lawyers, why were they taking him, the reasons for his detention and, for the longest hours of my life, I didn’t know whether my father was being tortured, whether my father was alive, or what was his situation.
It wasn’t until a year later when he had his first preliminary hearing, a hearing where he received the unfair and political charges of conspiracy and criminal association, and also the possibility of ending up in jail for 26 years. He’s the only mayor in the world who today is arbitrarily and illegally arrested and it’s been two years since, as the daughter of a political dissident, I’ve learned to transform this fear into courage.
Because today, I cannot only talk about Antonio Ledezma, I cannot only talk about one political prisoner; that would be selfish. I am here talking on behalf of more than a hundred courageous women and men who are today illegally and arbitrarily behind bars for unmasking Maduro’s regime because Maduro, Nicolás Maduro, the man we have to call President in Venezuela, is a man who has destroyed my country; a man who has violated all democratic and human rights principles to maintain himself in power; a man who has led us to the worst humanitarian crisis in our history.
Because today, as I am speaking to all of you, my people, the Venezuelans, are dying of hunger, are dying in our hospitals, are dying in our streets due to the lack of food, medicine and the lack of security. And that’s the reality of my country. That’s the real face of Maduro’s dictatorship.
Because it doesn’t matter if he wants to silence us by putting us behind bars, if he wants to silence us by oppressing our press – one of his last measures was taking out the signal of CNN – because if I can reassure all of you something, it’s that every authoritarian government is terribly afraid of information.
Seeing my father in jail and now with house arrest is the hardest experience I’ve ever had to live through. The government has turned my house into a prison. We have 30 policemen constantly watching us, constantly recording all of our conversations and treating us like if we were criminals. Twice a day or sometimes more, they photograph my father making sure he hasn’t escaped, and in each knock of our door, we feel the constant fear of not knowing if that’s the moment they’re gonna take him back to jail. He’s not allowed to look through the window; actually, when it was his second anniversary he looked through the window and we don’t know whether he’s gonna be sanctioned for that.
So, until today, he hasn’t have a sentence or the chance to defend himself because in my country, there is no state of law or any sort of separation of institutions. In the last two weeks, as Jared mentioned, we have received the support of the White House, and more than 20,000 mayors all around the world has demanded the release of Antonio Ledezma. This past Sunday, in his second anniversary, the Parliament did a historic session on the street, asking for the immediate release of my father, stating that as a mayor elected and re-elected and the second civil authority of my country, he needed to go back to the streets to work for his people, to work with his people and go back to his political situation.
Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people and I grew up listening to this from my father but I never really understood the real meaning until I saw him sacrifice his freedom two years ago.
I would like to share a segment of one of my favourite letters he wrote when he was in jail.
“Today, I feel more than ever firm and willing to persist in this fight for liberty. I am both mentally and spiritually prepared to withstand the infamy and mystery of being unfairly put in jail. For me, prison is a non-transferable experience because when you surround your will for a just and noble cause, the strength to keep your head and your principle up high is renewed.”
I cannot assure you that our victory in Venezuela will come tomorrow, or next month, but we can affirm that freedom’s triumph is today closer than ever. Now, I want all of you that when you leave here and you think about Venezuela: think about Antonio Ledezma, think about more than 100 political prisoners and think about the Venezuelan people who are suffering today.
I want you all to put a face to my father, to my country and to the bravest man I’ve ever met in my life.
9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, February 21, 2017