A Venezuelan Supreme Court Judge fled to the United States on Sunday to protest the continued rule of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, days before the socialist takes power for another six-year mandate.
Christian Zerpa, a longtime ally of the socialist regime, said in an interview with Florida radio station EVTV that last year’s election “was not free and competitive,” despite having repeatedly ruled in favor of Maduro’s efforts to transform the country into a Cuba-style dictatorship.
“I’ve decided to leave Venezuela to disavow the government of Nicolás Maduro,” Zerpa said. “I believe (Maduro) does not deserve a second chance because the election he supposedly won was not free and competitive.”
He also revealed that he did not publicize his opposition to Maduro so that he could provide a safe passage for his family to flee the country and seek refuge in the U.S. Responding to his departure, Venezuela’s Supreme Court claimed that Zerpa was facing allegations of sexual harassment following an investigation that began in November.
Zerpa is the second Supreme Court justice to flee Venezuela in recent years. In 2012, Justice Eladio Aponte also fled to the U.S. after accusing the late dictator Hugo Chávez of interfering and manipulating the court’s internal affairs. He also follows a string of opposition politicians, including some fellow former Maduro loyalists, in denouncingthe regime overseas.
The departure provides another blow to the ruling regime days before Maduro takes office for a second term after successfully rigging last year’s presidential election in his favor by banning opposition candidates from running, a move Zerpa approved on the Supreme Court.
The Lima Group, which consists of twelve regional governments seeking a resolution to Venezuela’s ongoing political and humanitarian crisis, said in a statement Friday that member states would not recognize Maduro as the country’s president and urged him to cede power to the opposition-controlled congress until fresh elections can be held.
“Only through the full restoration, as soon as possible, of democracy and respect for human rights is it possible to resolve the country’s political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis,” the diplomats said.
Maduro has repeatedly pushed back against all forms of international pressure and is now aggressively forging relationships and dependencies with other authoritarian regimes including Russia, China, and Iran.
“The revolution is stronger today than ever, more experienced than ever, to defend the sovereignty of the country,” Maduro said last week. “Venezuelans have the opportunity to enjoy 2019 as a year of prosperity and progress.”