March 18, 2019 / 4:07 PM / a month ago

U.S.-sanctioned Venezuelan general defects to Colombia -sources

March 18 (Reuters) - A Venezuelan general who is under U.S. sanction for incompetent management of a state medicine program has fled to Colombia amid growing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro, two sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The United States in 2018 sanctioned army General Carlos Rotondaro, former head of a government agency that provided medicine for chronic health conditions, as part of efforts to “highlight the economic mismanagement and endemic corruption” by Maduro’s government.

Rotondaro has left for Colombia and has joined forces with former Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who is working to have Maduro removed from office, according to one of the sources.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Reuters was unable to immediately obtain comment from Rotondaro.

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 Juan Guaido, head of Congress, who invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud. (Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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