(Reuters) - A Venezuelan general under sanction by the United States denounced the government of President Nicolas Maduro on Monday as “inept and corrupt” after fleeing for neighboring Colombia amid growing pressure on the isolated administration.
The United States in 2018 sanctioned army General Carlos Rotondaro, former head of a state agency that provided medicine for chronic health conditions, as part of efforts to “highlight the economic mismanagement and endemic corruption” by Maduro’s government.
“I’m not a traitor, I’m loyal to fatherland,” Rotondaro said in an interview with Colombian news station NTN24. “My oath (of military service) did not include defending a corrupt and inept government.”
Rotondaro said he had to leave Venezuela via illegal border crossings because his passport had been canceled.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Since January, hundreds of Venezuelan military officers have deserted to seek refuge in Colombia and have disavowed Maduro’s government in favor of Juan Guaido, whom the opposition-run congress designated president in January.
Rotondaro said he recognized Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader. “The population is clamoring for a change through free and fair elections,” he said.
High-ranking military officers are seen as crucial to keeping Maduro in power in the face of a hyperinflationary economic collapse that has fueled hunger and preventable disease and led to an exodus of some 3 million people since 2015.
The Venezuelan Social Security Institute for years imported and distributed medication for diseases such as cancer at no cost to patients. But amid the country’s economic crisis, it ran up huge debts with pharmaceutical companies and was unable to continue delivering medicine, leaving millions unable to obtain treatment for chronic diseases.
Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries with the help of the United States. Most Western nations have disavowed his government in favor of Guaido.
Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler