Colombia’s Petro, Venezuela’s Maduro meet in Caracas


CARACAS, Venezuela – The United States has long relied on Colombia as its closest Latin American ally against Venezuela’s socialist government. Former Colombian President Ivan Duque was a key partner in the US effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. In an impassioned speech in 2019, he said the Maduro “dictatorship” had “very few hours left.”

Three years later, the dictator Maduro remains in power. And on Tuesday, the duke’s successor flew to Caracas to meet him for lunch.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s visit to the Venezuelan capital is his most important step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to improve relations between the neighbors. He has reopened their shared border and sent an ambassador to Caracas. Now his visit ushers in a new era in regional diplomacy toward Venezuela.

It comes just two days after Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won Brazil’s presidential election, returning the left to power in all major Latin American countries, including Maduro’s archenemy. Maduro celebrated Lula’s victory over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro on Twitter and said he had spoken to him by phone about his plans to resume a “binational cooperation agenda”.

It also comes as the Biden administration has signaled a willingness to deal directly with Maduro, and the US-backed interim government in Venezuela, led by opposition leader Juan Guaido, appears to be nearing its end.

“Even before that, the era of pushing Maduro for democratization has kind of waned,” said David Smild, a specialist on Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America. Seeing that the strategy has failed to oust Maduro — and looking to disrupt his relationship with Moscow and perhaps reopen another source of oil — leaders are now choosing to join him.

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Petro and Maduro planned to discuss the countries’ bilateral relations, border opening and Venezuela’s return to the inter-American human rights system, according to a Colombian news release. The meeting is part of Petro’s effort to boost the regional economy, advance Latin American interests and protect the Amazon. Maduro has agreed to Petro’s request that his government act as a “guarantor” in peace talks between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, the largest remaining rebel group in Colombia.

The question, analysts say, is whether the warming relationship will be a means for Petro to guide Maduro toward democracy, or simply boost prestige for the dictator, who is on trial in the United States for narco-terrorism and indicted by the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity. .

“The problem is if we’re just going to see a photograph that will give Maduro legitimacy without putting his victims first,” said Tamara Taraciuk Bronner, deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “Will Petro use this as an opportunity to take advantage of the leverage to get him concrete concessions? Or is this a pat on the back for a dictator who has no interest in going anywhere?”

Petro’s government drew criticism in August when Venezuela’s new Colombian ambassador, Armando Benedetti, appeared cozy next to Maduro in photographs during their first meeting in Caracas. Petro has been accused of refusing to call out human rights abuses by Maduro.

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Terasiuk was concerned that Colombia was notably absent from a group of countries in the region that led the charge for the renewal of the United Nations fact-finding mission on Venezuela, an investigative body that has published reports critical of the Maduro government. But she and others were pleased to see Petro publicly calling for Venezuela to rejoin the Inter-American Human Rights System, which is monitored by the Organization of American States.

Human Rights Watch last week urged Petro to prioritize “concrete human rights commitments from the Venezuelan authorities” and address violence, abuse and human trafficking.

America’s relationship with Venezuela is also changing. The Trump administration refused to recognize Maduro after he claimed re-election in a 2018 vote widely seen as fraudulent; The following year, the countries severed diplomatic relations.

Now Biden administration officials have discussed lifting some oil sanctions on Venezuela after making a rare trip to Maduro’s presidential palace in March to discuss energy sanctions and secure the release of two detained Americans.

In September, as Venezuelan migration to the US increased, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced nearly $376 million in new humanitarian aid to Venezuela and other countries abroad to “respond to the needs of vulnerable Venezuelans”.

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Opposition leaders in Venezuela, meanwhile, are discussing moving away from Guaido, the head of the country’s last democratically elected National Assembly, who has been recognized by Washington as the country’s rightful leader.

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While the interim government led by Guaido retains control over some Venezuelan assets held abroad, it is increasingly irrelevant at home and supported by a dwindling number abroad. Venezuela’s main opposition parties have decided against participating in the renewal of Guaido’s parliamentary mandate when it expires in January, according to two people with direct knowledge of the decisions.

Guaido Objection was raised against Petro’s visit on Tuesday.

“President Petro decides to visit dictator Maduro today and call him ‘president’, which could dangerously normalize human rights abuses,” he tweeted.

A person close to the interim government told The Washington Post that the plan is for the National Assembly to retain its status as a democratically elected body while the future of the interim government is unknown. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Opposition leaders hope to unite behind a single candidate chosen by primaries to run for president in Venezuela in 2024. Maduro has indicated he may be willing to hold elections as early as 2023.

The question of Guaido’s future, the source said, is to be resolved by the end of this year.


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