Venezuela Supreme Court judge flees to US to protest Maduro
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 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 legitimising 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 US 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 apologised for propping up Maduro's government, saying that he feared being jailed as a dissident where his life would be put at risk.