Tags: LT | Venezuela | Supreme Court

Venezuela Supreme Court Judge Flees to US to Protest Maduro

Monday, 07 January 2019 01:37 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan Supreme Court justice who has been a longtime government loyalist has fled to the United States, saying he's protesting President Nicolas Maduro's upcoming second term.

Christian Zerpa said Sunday that Venezuela's high court has become an appendage of Maduro's inner circle since he and a group of ruling party members were appointed to the bench in 2015. Venezuela's government lacks the any type of separation of powers, he said.

"We are in the presence of an autocracy that has condemned to death any opposition to this particular vision of power," Zerpa told Miami-based broadcaster EVTV.

He said the government "has only brought hunger, misery and destruction to the country," calling it a "failed state."

A once wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in the throes of a historic crisis after two decades of socialist rule. Millions have fled, while runaway inflation leaves those remaining behind struggling to afford scarce food and medicine.

Maduro is scheduled to take the oath of office on Thursday, launching a second, six-year term that critics say is illegitimate. Political opponents and many foreign nations consider his re-election in May a sham after popular opponents were banned from running and the largest anti-government parties boycotted the race.

Zerpa said that he fled with his family to Florida because he didn't want to play a role legitimizing Maduro's rule when the Supreme Court swears him.

Supreme Court chief justice Maikel Moreno — a Maduro loyalist — said Sunday that Zerpa fled to escape allegations of sexual harassment charges lodged by women in his office.

Zerpa, who said he is now willing to collaborate with a sweeping U.S. investigation into corruption and human rights abuses among Venezuela's well-connected, described receiving directions from the influential first lady Cilia Flores on how to rule in politically sensitive cases.

As a newly installed justice, he recounted being summoned to the court and told to sign off on a key ruling without first reviewing its details. It disqualified three elected representatives of Amazonas state from taking their seats in congress following the opposition's sweep of legislative elections in 2015.

The outcome prevented the opposition from amassing a two-third super majority that would have severely curtailed Maduro's power.

He apologized for propping up Maduro's government, saying that he feared being jailed as a dissident where his life would be put at risk.

Zerpa is among the top Venezuelan officials who have been sanctioned by Canada, but he has not been targeted by U.S. authorities, who accuse dozens in Maduro's administration as contributing to the crisis.

Pressure has been mounting against Maduro internationally and from his political opponents still inside Venezuela.

A dozen Latin American governments and Canada delivered a blistering rebuke of Maduro on Friday, rejecting the legitimacy of his second term and urging him to hand over power as the only path to restoring democracy.

The opposition-led congress on Saturday opened its session for the year vowing to battle against Maduro's socialist administration.

Maduro says he intends to take the oath despite his critics and press ahead with the socialist revolution, promising a turnaround of the failing economy.

"The revolution is stronger today than ever, more experienced than ever, to defend the sovereignty of the country," he said. "Venezuelans have the opportunity to enjoy 2019 as a year of prosperity and progress."

Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges, who lives in exile fearing for his safety, sent a letter Monday to the leaders of Latin American nations. He urged Mexico and Spain to join the broad effort to pressure Maduro's government and return Venezuela to democratic rule.

"The inhuman arrogance of this dictatorship led by Nicolas Maduro personally challenges the heads of state of the region," Borges said. "It's not fair that a whole country should perish to satisfy one man's lust for power."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

   
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A Venezuelan Supreme Court justice who has been a longtime government loyalist has fled to the United States, saying he's protesting President Nicolas Maduro's upcoming second term.Christian Zerpa said Sunday that Venezuela's high court has become an appendage of Maduro's...
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2019-37-07
Monday, 07 January 2019 01:37 PM
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