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Colombia hosts diplomats from 20 countries on Venezuela's political crisis

Diplomats from 20 countries gathered in Colombia to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, where Nicols Maduro's socialist administration has strengthened its autocratic rule

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

AP Bogota
Diplomats from 20 countries gathered Tuesday in Colombia to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, where Nicols Maduro's socialist administration has strengthened 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 has called for sanctions on Venezuela's government to be lifted, but also for policies that ensure more democracy in Venezuela.
Following the five-hour-long meeting, Colombian foreign affairs minister Alvaro Leyva read a brief statement in which he said the participating nations agreed it is necessary for Venezuela's government and opposition parties to set an electoral calendar that ensures free and fair conditions for all involved.
Levya also said there was consensus around lifting sanctions if there's progress in negotiations over Venezuela's political future.
Delegates from the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the United Kingdom attended the one-day event, which looked at ways to boost ongoing negotiations 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 at the end of last year.
In the Mexico talks, opposition parties are seeking changes in the electoral system that will ensure a level playing field in next year's presidential election, while Maduro's government wants sanctions on Venezuela's state run oil company to be lifted, and has demanded that the United Kingdom and the U.S. unfreeze its assets in those countries.
While the negotiations have advanced slowly, many countries now see the Mexico talks as the best path to overcome the political crisis in Venezuela, where opposition leaders have been forced into exile and those who remain in the country claim that Maduro is an illegitimate president.
Geoff Ramsey, a senior analyst on Venezuela, at the Atlantic Council think tank, said Tuesday's conference in Colombia reflected an impressive display of unity around the Mexico negotiations.
The fact that the United States was willing to send such a high level delegation to the conference shows there is real political will to put sanctions relief on the table he said.
At the end of the day the only thing that's going to tempt Maduro back to the negotiating table is the Biden administration's willingness to lift oil sanctions, and that's exactly what the international community is backing here.
However the conference also reflected divisions among Venezuela's opposition, where some factions have questioned Colombia's efforts to mediate the crisis.
On Monday, Juan Guaid, the former leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, travelled to Bogota intending to hold meetings with international delegates on the conference sidelines.
But after he announced he was in the country, Colombian officials said he had entered illegally and escorted Guaid to Bogota's airport, where he boarded a flight to Miami.
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 they challenged Maduro's rule by creating an interim government led by Guaid, who was backed by the United States and dozens of nations that stopped recognizing Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
The U.S. government also imposed heavy sanctions on Maduro's government that cut its access to U.S. banks and crippled the nation's oil exports, hoping that would spark regime change. But Maduro's government dug in and resisted the sanctions with support from Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Guaid's claim to Venezuela's presidency fizzled out over the past two years as his interim government failed to exert control over any institutions. Opposition parties in Venezuela dissolved it late last year, and replaced it with a committee that includes leaders from the nation's three main opposition parties.
After Guaid was escorted onto the flight, Petro tweeted that the opposition figure could have applied for asylum but chose instead to enter Colombia illegally. Foreign Minister lvaro Leyva said Guaid apparently wanted to make some noise.
As the stalemate in Venezuela continues, many countries have realized that using sanctions to bring about regime change has failed, said Ronal Rodrguez, a Venezuela expert at Bogota's Rosario University.
That includes the United States, which last year loosened some sanctions on Venezuela's national oil company, after the Maduro administration and the opposition made an agreement on humanitarian aid.
We are moving away form the failed policy of the Trump administration that sought to achieve regime change through sanctions said Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, in an interview with Colombian network NTN. Gonzalez added the U.S. is willing to ease more sanctions if concrete steps toward free and fair elections are taken in the Venezuela talks.
President Petro said Tuesday that he is attempting to convince Venezuela to rejoin the Interamerican Human Rights system, and added that establishing an electoral calendar with clear guarantees for opposition groups would be a big achievement in negotiations.
The biggest conquest of all is that the hopes and dreams of the Venezuelan people come true he said.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Apr 26 2023 | 8:49 AM IST

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