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


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

Three years later, the authoritarian Maduro remains in power. And on Tuesday, Duque’s successor went to Caracas to meet him for lunch.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s trip to the Venezuelan capital is the most significant step yet toward a campaign promise to improve ties between the neighbors. He reopened their shared border and sent an ambassador to Caracas. Now his visit confirms a new era in regional diplomacy towards Venezuela.

It comes just two days after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won Brazil’s presidential election, bringing the left back to power in every major Latin American country, including some former enemies. important Maduro. 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 restart a “binational cooperation agenda”.

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

“Even before that, there was an era where he was pushing Maduro to democratize,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow who specializes in Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America. Seeing that the strategy to oust Maduro has failed – and to seek to disrupt his relationship with Moscow, and perhaps reopen another source of oil – leaders are now choosing to engage with him.

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Petro and Maduro planned to discuss the countries’ bilateral relations, the opening of the border and Venezuela’s return to the Inter-American System of Human Rights, according to a Colombian news release. The meeting is part of Petro’s effort to boost the regional economy, promote Latin American interests and protect the Amazon. Maduro 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, according to analysts, is whether the warming relationship will be a way for Petro Maduro to lead towards democracy, or simply to bestow prestige on a dictator indicted in the United States on narcotics charges and accused by an international court of crimes in the face of humanity. .

“The problem is if we’re just going to see a photo that will legitimize Maduro without putting his victims first,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas. “Is Petro going to use this as an opportunity to use the leverage it has to get 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 Colombia’s new ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, appeared cozy next to Maduro in photos during their first meeting in Caracas. Petro has been accused because of Maduro’s strong refusal to call out human rights abuses.

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Taraciuk was concerned that Colombia was notably absent from the group of countries in the region leading the charge for the renewal of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, an investigative body that has published critical reports about the Maduro government. But she and others were happy to see Petro publicly calling for Venezuela to rejoin the Inter-American System of Human Rights, a monitor of the Organization of American States.

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

The US 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 countries severed diplomatic ties the following year.

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

In September, with Venezuelan migration to the US increasing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced nearly $376 million in new humanitarian aid “to respond to the needs of vulnerable Venezuelans” in Venezuela and other countries over country

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Meanwhile, opposition leaders in Venezuela are discussing a move away from Guaido, the last democratically elected head of the National Assembly, who has been recognized by Washington as the country’s right-wing leader.

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While the interim government led by Guaidó retains control of some Venezuelan assets held abroad, it is increasingly irrelevant at home and is supported by a dwindling number of foreign countries. Venezuela’s main opposition parties have decided not to participate in the renewal of Guaidó’s parliamentary mandate when it expires in January, according to two people with direct knowledge of the decisions.

Guaido protest against Petro’s visit on Tuesday.

“President Petro decides to visit dictator Maduro today and call him ‘President’, an act that could dangerously normalize human rights violations,” he tweeted.

A person close to the interim government told the Washington Post that the National Assembly plans to maintain its status as a democratically elected institution and that 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 a principal, to contest Venezuela’s presidential elections in 2024. Maduro has hinted that he may be willing to hold the elections as early as 2023.

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


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