SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A group of opposition-appointed Venezuelan judges arrived on Thursday in Chile as exiles after more than two months holed up at the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas to avoid arrest in the crisis-hit country.
Chile’s Foreign Ministry had granted the five parallel magistrates asylum in August. Threatened with jail by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, they remained in Venezuela until last week, when they said they fled the country.
Four of the five resurfaced in Santiago on Thursday morning. Another is expected to arrive later in the day.
“All we can say today is that we were forced to abandon our beloved home of Venezuela, but that another nation has embraced us, and will protect our freedom,” Beatriz Ruiz, one of the five, told reporters at Santiago airport.
Ruiz is one of 33 unofficial magistrates who were threatened with jail by Maduro after the opposition-led National Assembly appointed them in July to challenge the country’s Supreme Court, which has heavily favored the ruling Socialist Party.
Maduro and the Supreme Court, however, contend that the designation of the opposition magistrates was illegal.
The status of the remaining unofficial magistrates remains unclear. Three were detained, although local media reported they were subsequently freed. Others have fled to the United States and Colombia.
Chile is among 12 countries in the Americas that form the so-called Lima group that criticized Venezuela’s entirely pro-government 545-member legislative superbody, known as the Constituent Assembly, elected in July.
The Lima group this week criticized a nationwide election held in Venezuela on Sunday, when the ruling Socialist Party took 18 of 23 governorships in a nationwide vote despite widespread anger over economic hardship, that has left millions suffering food shortages, a currency collapse and soaring inflation.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Dave Sherwood; editing by Girish Gupta and G Crosse