Diplomats from 20 countries gathered in Colombia on Tuesday to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, where the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro has consolidated its autocratic rule despite international efforts to expand political freedoms in the South American nation.
The conference was hosted by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who called for the lifting of sanctions on the Venezuelan government, but also for policies that ensure “greater democracy” in Venezuela.
“The history of Latin America is in our hands,” Petro said as he opened the conference with a half-hour speech that focused on the region’s transition from authoritarian regimes to democratic governments. He said the region “could mark a path that leads to war, and rebuild democracy, or we could rebuild a path to peace and democracy.”
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Representatives from the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the United Kingdom are attending the one-day event, which will look at ways to promote dialogue between the Maduro administration and a coalition of opposition parties known as the Democratic Unitary Platform. Those talks began in Mexico in 2021 but stalled late last year.
While members of the Unitary Forum are supportive of Colombia’s meeting, some factions of the Venezuelan opposition have questioned whether Colombia can be an effective mediator.
On Monday, Juan Guaidó, the former leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, traveled to Bogota with the intention of meeting with international delegates on the sidelines of the conference. But after announcing he was in the country, Colombian officials said he had entered illegally and escorted Guaido to the airport in Bogota, where he boarded a flight to Miami.
In Mexico talks, opposition parties are demanding changes to the electoral system that would ensure a level playing field in next year’s presidential election, while Maduro’s government wants sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company to be lifted, further demanding that the United Kingdom and the United States unfreeze their assets in those countries.
While talks have moved slowly, many countries now see the Mexico talks as the best way to resolve the political crisis in Venezuela, where opposition leaders have been forced into exile while those living in the country People claim that Maduro is an illegitimate president.
“This summit could be an incredible chance to make sure that ongoing negotiations are a priority for the international community,” said Geoff Ramsey, a senior Venezuelan fellow at the Washington think tank Atlantic Council. “It’s a way for the participants to make sure that both sides in the (Mexico) talks have an incentive.”
Maduro was re-elected in 2018 after judges banned his main opponents from competing. But most opposition parties refused to recognize the election results. Instead he challenged Maduro’s rule by forming an interim government led by Guaidó, which was supported by the United States and dozens of nations that have stopped recognizing Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
The US government also imposed heavy sanctions on Maduro’s government, cutting off his access to US banks and crippling the country’s oil exports, in the hope that this would lead to regime change. But Maduro’s government opposed the sanctions with the support of Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Guaidó’s claim to the presidency of Venezuela failed over the past two years as his interim government failed to establish control over any institutions. Opposition parties in Venezuela disbanded it late last year, and replaced it with a committee consisting of leaders from the country’s three main opposition parties.
After Guaidó was taken to flight, Petro tweeted that the opposition figure could have applied for asylum, but chose instead to enter Colombia illegally. Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva said that Guaidó apparently wanted to make some “noise”.
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As the standoff in Venezuela continues, many countries have realized that using sanctions to bring about regime change has failed, said Ronal Rodriguez, a Venezuela expert at the University of Rosario in Bogotá.
That includes the United States, which loosened some sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil company last year after the Maduro administration and the opposition struck a deal on humanitarian aid.
“We are moving away from the failed policy of the Trump administration, which sought to achieve regime change through sanctions,” said Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in an interview with Colombian network NTN. Gonzalez said the US is ready to ease more sanctions if the Venezuelan talks take concrete steps towards free and fair elections.
President Petro said on Tuesday he was trying to persuade Venezuela to rejoin the Inter-American Human Rights System, and said that setting an electoral calendar with clear guarantees for opposition groups would be one of the “problems” in upcoming talks. great achievement”. He also said a schedule outlining which restrictions would be lifted would also be a desirable goal.
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“The biggest victory is that the hopes and dreams of the Venezuelan people come true,” he said. “We want them to make decisions independently without being pressured by anyone outside their country or within their country.”
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