BOGOTA – The Colombian government has granted refuge for 30 days to six of the 33 judges sworn in last July by the Venezuelan National Assembly legislature, and who fled their country after President Nicolas Maduro ordered their arrest.
“Yesterday they granted us refuge,” Judge Rafael Ortega told EFE on the phone, adding that the Colombians also agreed to welcome his colleagues Jose Luis Rodriguez Piña, Ruben Carrillo, Gonzalo Oliveros, Gonzalo Alvarez and Evelyn D’Apollo.
Ortega said Colombia also agreed to accept his wife and two children, as well as the wife of another judge.
The decision was made public after the arrival in Bogota of former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, of whom President Juan Manuel Santos said “she is now under the protection of the Colombian government” and added that “if she asks for asylum, we will grant it.”
The judge said the justices’ refugee status allows them to move freely around Bogota and have access to social security, among other benefits.
Asked if the decision could have repercussions on the already tense relations between Colombia and Venezuela, he said that Bogota acts according to the rulings of international law.
“I don’t know how the Venezuelan government will take it, but what is certain is that the Colombian government is acting according to International Law with regard to the politically persecuted,” Ortega said.
“We entered our plea for refuge last Tuesday and they delivered it this Friday,” said the Venezuelan judge, who let it be known that they left the country because they felt threatened by President Maduro’s intention to have them arrested.
“We haven’t committed any crime,” Ortega said.
Last July 21, the National Assembly, with its opposition majority, swore in 33 judges to Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to substitute the same number they considered “illegitimate” after December 2015, when the then-Chavista legislative majority hurriedly appointed dozens of Chavista judges before they were voted out of office.
Last July 22, the day after the judges were sworn in, the Sebin intelligence service arrested Justice Angel Zerpa.
The Venezuelan president later announced that the other justices would be arrested “one by one,” and their assets and bank accounts would be frozen.