Venezuelan opposition leader laments “genocide” in his country, reveals his escape from detainment

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…As Qatar Airways announces $69 million revenue loss this year***

The people of Venezuela are victims of genocide and the first- narco-dictatorship of the 21st century, claims prominent opposition leader and former political prisoner Antonio Ledezma.

“This is a premediated massacre, the worst of its kind because it is against its own people,” the 63-year-old exiled politician told Fox News on Monday, ahead of a speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York. “The worst part of it is seeing the children dying of malnutrition, and the women dying of breast cancer because they can no longer get cancer medicine.”

Ledezma said another 300 children are expected to die this year due to malnutrition alone, and maintains several hundred, possibly thousands, of people have been shot dead since protests began almost five years ago. And from February to May of last year, he charged, there were more than 130 political assassinations orchestrated by the government.

“Under this regime, you will die in one of three ways,” he said. “Either by protesting and the forces will shoot you, or because of lack of medicine or a lack of food.”

Ledezma, who is advocating for a UN-led humanitarian intervention in Venezuela, expressed exasperation that world leaders have not come forward to officially designate Venezuelans as victims of genocide.

“It is incredible how this regime is starving its own people to death,” he said. “We have all seen the pictures. We have all seen the videos and the proof of what is happening. Why is the international community not calling this a genocide? Because that is what it is.”

Graphic images and vivid accounts from those inside Venezuela’s crumbling socialist economy have ranged from hospitals stuffed with wailing patients unable to receive medication or professional treatment to women forced into prostitution, to polls indicating the average Venezuelan survives on just one scavenged meal a day.

That’s a sharp turnabout of treasures for the oil-rich country, which throughout the 1970s and 1980s was considered the wealthiest nation in Latin America, and a beacon of stability and prosperity for those fleeing other conflicts.

Socialist firebrand Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, and instituted a range of policies that critics say set in motion the economic death spiral from which the country has not recovered.

Chavez was succeeded after his death in 2013 by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who campaigned on the promise to continue the Chavez legacy. Maduro himself studied in Cuba, and was a member of the ultra-left-wing Socialist League.

“The Venezuelan people have always been very hard-working and hey never wanted anything handed out to them, what happened was that they fell into the hands of socialist populists,” Ledezma said. “Venezuela now is the first-known case of a narco-dictatorship. This is a failed regime under the management of mafias and gangs.”

Ledezma said numerous branches of the Venezuelan government are involved in inciting gang violence, including unions who claim to be “on the side of the people,” but are directly connected to the government.

“These are the people connected to the drug trafficking. If you need cement or anything like that, you go through them, but this is all collected by unions, of mobsters who work with the mafias to bring the supplies in,” he vowed. “Then you have all the teenage gangs who have grown up under this regime. It’s a whole generation that has just become gangs. It’s the only way of life that they know. And then all the parts of the intelligence service, militia groups who are part of the police and even the jail directors pushing the violence.”

Ledezma himself knows firsthand what it means to be a victim of the Venezuela clampdown. His own nightmare began with a late- night raid on Feb. 19, 2015, when he was detained by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service at his office – while serving as the mayor of the capital city of Caracas – under charges of being involved in an American plot to “overthrow the government.”

“I got more than one thousand days in jail without any commodities or basic necessities. Of the 1,000 days, I only got an audience with a judge one time, and they gave me 26 years in jail,” he recalled. “In my 1,000 days, I was moved to three different jails. There were torture chambers and then finally house arrest. I lived in a tiny apartment, I could not go outside or do anything.”

Human Rights groups decried his arrest as politically motivated, and without evidence. Maduro’s imprisoning of opponents has been broadly criticized by much of the international community since he took power, and served as the impetus last year for the Trump administration to impose sanctions against Maduro and a host of other government officials.

Nonetheless, Ledezma did the unthinkable on the morning of Nov. 16 last year, when he quietly slipped past his guards outside his tiny house arrest apartment and journeyed with scores of other refugees into neighboring Colombia on foot, arriving the following day.

In the meantime, Qatar Airways says it suffered a $69 million loss this year off revenue of $11.5 billion amid a boycott of Doha by four Arab nations.

The carrier made the announcement in a statement Tuesday, over a year after the boycott saw Qatar Airways locked out the airspace of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar Airways also adjusted its profit in 2017 to $766 million off revenue of $10.7 billion.

The airline’s chief executive, Akbar al-Baker, said: “This turbulent year has inevitably had an impact on our financial results, which reflect the negative effect the illegal blockade has had on our airline.”

The four Arab nations are boycotting Doha in a political dispute. Mediation by Kuwait and the United States hasn’t managed to stop the boycott.

Fox with additional report from ABC