With White House Meeting, Colombia’s President Wading Into the Venezuela Conundrum

Both America and Colombia agree on the need to promote dialogue between Venezuela’s authoritarian leaders and the opposition, but not for the same reason.

AP/Ariana Cubillos
The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, right, receives Colombia's president, Gustavo Petro, at the Miraflores Presidential Palace, Caracas, November 1, 2022. AP/Ariana Cubillos

President Biden will host a “key partner” at the White House Thursday: President Petro of Colombia, who back home is cozying up to dictatorships in the region and beyond, including Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia. 

Mr. Biden and his Colombian counterpart, a former Marxist guerrilla fighter, will discuss efforts to foster democracy in the region, the White House claims. The Washington meeting occurs on the eve of a summit meeting Mr. Petro plans to host later this month at Bogota, where regional leaders will talk with Venezuela’s authoritarian president about returning democracy to Venezuela. 

Colombia is one of America’s “key partners,” a statement from press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says. In their meeting the presidents will discuss bilateral issues and efforts to combat climate change, narco-trafficking, and migration. They will also “promote democratic values and human and labor rights in the region and the world,” according to the statement. 

 Mr. Biden will talk about “democratic values” and the “importance of elections as a tool, which will be a direct wink to what is happening in Venezuela,” the director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy, Sergio Guzman, tells the Sun. 

Both countries agree on the need to promote dialogue between President Maduro and the opposition, but not for the same reason, Mr. Guzman says. While the Colombian president is pushing to improve Mr. Maduro’s global image, Mr. Biden wants the opposition to have an opportunity to defeat the Chavista dictator. 

As yet, Mr. Maduro has steadfastly refused to conduct fair and free elections. Mr. Petro, nevertheless, will host delegations from Latin America, Europe, and America on April 25 in an attempt to promote an election pitting Mr. Maduro against the Venezuelan opposition. American officials confirmed their attendance. 

Mr. Maduro, who met the Colombian foreign minister, Alvaro Leyva, at Caracas Sunday, fully supports the Bogota summit. There are “great expectations” for the conference, Mr. Maduro said on his new state-run television show. The “international community has only one voice,” and is united behind the idea of “zero sanctions against Venezuela,” he said.  

“I expressed all of Venezuela’s support for this summit to energize and revive the entire struggle of our country to achieve respect for our sovereignty, our independence, and the definitive lifting of all unilateral coercive measures,” Mr. Maduro added.

Opposition leaders seemed skeptical about prospects for success of the Bogota summit. In the upcoming conference, Mr. Petro has the opportunity to decide which side he’s going to be on, “whether he wants to be the voice of a dictator or democracy,” a member of Venezuela’s opposition, Juan Guaido, said. What the opposition is asking, Mr. Guaido added, is that Mr. Maduro set a date for fair and free elections, without any censorship. 

“@gustavopetro when there is no democracy, as in Venezuela, all parties must be heard. Be a spokesperson for human rights, not for those who persecute and imprison the opposition, who censored the free press and uses stolen funds to spread more lies now with a TV program,” Mr. Guaido said

Another topic of the Colombian president’s Washington trip will be the rush of narcotics to America from south of the border. When Mr. Petro assumed office last year, becoming the country’s first left-wing president, he said the American-led war on drugs had been a failure. Instead he called for a different path, including investment in infrastructure in Colombia’s rural areas where farmers see coca leaves as their only viable crop.

Meanwhile a Russian delegation is traveling to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Brazil to explore the establishment of ties in the hemisphere. Latin American leaders are “playing an increasingly prominent role in the multipolar world order,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said.

The New York Sun

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