Leopoldo Lopez, a Venezuelan opposition figure who has sheltered at the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas for 18 months, has now fled the country, his father told AFP Saturday.

"I can confirm he left the embassy of his own free will and left Venezuela in secret," his father, who is also called Leopoldo Lopez and who lives in Spain, told AFP.

Later, the younger Lopez himself seemed to confirm the news.

"Venezuelans, this decision has not been easy, but be assured that you can count on this servant to fight from any space," he wrote on Twitter.

Lopez, the former mayor of Chacao, a chic Caracas district, was arrested in 2014 when mass opposition protests began in Venezuela, and served several years in prison before being released to house arrest.

He was freed by military officials who were keeping him under house arrest and sought refuge inside the Spanish ambassador's residence.

The senior Lopez said his son had left the embassy "about two days ago" and crossed the border into Colombia on Friday.

He has since moved on and was heading to Madrid to be reunited with his wife and three children.

"We hope he will be here tomorrow," said Lopez senior, a member of the European Parliament for Spain's rightwing Popular Party.

The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro has not yet reacted publicly to the latest exile of a high-profile opponent.

Leopoldo Lopez, shown here in 2019, has fled Venezuela and is en route to Spain, his father said on October 24, 2020
Leopoldo Lopez, shown here in 2019, has fled Venezuela and is en route to Spain, his father said on October 24, 2020 AFP / Juan BARRETO

But the United States welcomed the news.

"We are happy to see Leopoldo Lopez free. The illegitimate regime has hundreds of prisoners because they do not agree with Maduro, they represent a threat because the people are with them, or they have the audacity to ask for the rights of the Constitution," tweeted the virtual US embassy for Venezuela, located in Colombia.

And Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido greeted the news jubilantly, tweeting: "Maduro, you don't control anything."

His Popular Will party said Lopez will "initiate new actions in favor of the struggle for freedom in Venezuela."

But for political analyst Jesus Castillo-Molleda, the departure weakens Guaido within an already divided opposition.

"It is the signal that Guaido is heading towards the exit," the analyst said.

As president of the National Assembly, Guaido proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela in 2019, calling Maduro's re-election a fraud.

Since then Guaido has been trying, in vain and despite international support, to oust Maduro, political heir of the late President Hugo Chavez.

In power since 2013, Maduro continues to enjoy the support of the army, the cornerstone of the Venezuelan political system, as well as Russia, Iran and Cuba.

Lopez's exile comes ahead of legislative elections called by the government for December 6. The opposition has called for a boycott of the vote.