Antonieta Ledezma is joined by a few dozen protesters in New York's Times Square
The Venezuelan government has accused Mayor Antonio Ledezma of conspiracy
A week after the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was incarcerated by the Venezuelan government, his youngest daughter is speaking out and demanding his release.
The last time Antonieta Ledezma, 23, saw her father was in early January when she left Venezuela bound for New York. At the time, her teary-eyed dad embraced her and asked, “When will I see you again? Promise me you will take care of yourself,” she wrote in an open letter published earlier this week.
Ledezma says she never imagined that in just a few weeks seeing her father again would become a matter of not “when” but “if.”
“He was unjustly imprisoned and has effectively been kidnapped by this government,” said Ledezma, who was joined by a few dozen protesters Monday night in New York’s Times Square.
“The world needs to know what my country and what my family is going through,” she said.
Growing list of jailed opposition leaders
In the midst of a deepening economic crisis, the outspoken mayor of Venezuela’s capital and largest city, is the latest in a growing list of opposition leaders who have been arrested and jailed by the country’s socialist government.
On orders of President Nicolas Maduro, federal agents stormed into Ledezma’s office on Thurdsay, accusing him of conspiracy and helping to plot an American-backed coup.
As the small crowd of protesters in Times Square broke into chants of “Viva Venezuela” and “This government will fall,” Ledezma vehemently denied the charges levied against her father.
“My dad has been accused of conspiracy. He is a man who wants the freedom of my country. That is the only thing that he has done,” she said. “There is no explanation. My dad is the mayor of a city, and the government has not only disrespected him but all of his human rights.”
Venezuelan government officials in New York did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Although she has not been able to speak or see her father since his arrest, Ledezma believes that he remains in good spirits.
’An unbreakable spirit’
“He’s trying to stay strong. He has an unbreakable spirit, and his only fear at this moment is losing the country that he loves. The government may have incarcerated his body but never his thoughts and ideas.”
Ledezma’s supporters fear that he will face the same fate as some of Venezuela’s other dissident political prisoners, most notably, Leopoldo Lopez.
Lopez, a former mayoral and presidential candidate, has been in jail for over a year, accused of inciting violence during last year’s anti-government protests.
“We know this could be a long process, but we are prepared for that. We will not let the abuses of this government weaken us,” said Ledezma. “My father’s message from prison to Venezuelans and the world is that our country is going through a horrible time, but we are a strong people and he is going to keep fighting.”
Maduro maintains that Lopez, Ledezma and other opposition leaders were arrested by order of the attorney general’s office and must be tried for “crimes against the peace, security and constitution of the country.” Critics, however, say that the government is systematically cracking down on the opposition to deflect attention from the flailing economy.
Since Maduro took office, inflation is at an all-time high, 68%, and falling oil prices have had a ripple effect on the country’s already ailing economy. The International Monetary Fund predicts its economy will shrink by 7% this year, the worst in Latin America.
“It is a desperate act by a desperate regime that is seeking to veil the current social and political reality in Venezuela,” said ex-Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, of Ledezma’s arrest. Arria joined Ledezma’s daughter at Monday night’s rally.
“To kidnap the mayor of Venezuela’s capital, no less, is unprecedented, and it will have consequences,” said Arria.
In the meantime, Ledezma remains hopeful that she will once again be able to embrace her father as a free man.
“Hope is the last thing you lose. I know my dad will be free. His cause is now my cause.”