The head of US diplomacy, Mike Pompeo, will meet on Monday in Colombia with the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, on his first stop of a three-day trip to Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Secretary of State of the Donald Trump administration, which is driving Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s departure and considers his re-election fraud, said he will meet Guaidó in Bogotá during a regional conference on how to fight terrorism.
On the flight to Colombia, Pompeo told reporters that he was looking forward to the meeting with Guaidó, reelected days ago as head of the National Assembly and recognized as interim president of Venezuela by the United States and more than 50 countries.
“Maduro has been destructive (…) We can help the opposition continue to co-operate, continue to build forces. They represent the Venezuelan people, and our mission is to reach free and fair elections so that Venezuelans can have representative presidential elections and that the economy can be rebuilt,” he said.
Since Maduro first assumed leadership in 2013, Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, has suffered a sharp contraction in its economy, which led to 4.6 million people leaving the country in recent years, according to the UN. Of that total, 1.6 million have gone to Colombia.
But despite the political and economic crisis, the efforts of Guaidó and the sanctions of Washington, Maduro is still in power backed by the security forces, as well as by Cuba, Russia and China.
“We all knew that this would be a huge challenge, that Maduro would not leave easily,” Pompeo said, although he said “real progress” has been made in terms of “restoring democracy in Venezuela.”
“If the Cubans stop propping it up – and we are working to convince them that this is not the best for the Cuban people – and if those who surround it from a security perspective finally conclude that Venezuela is better without Maduro, so I think we can achieve our goal.
US could exert ‘higher pressure’ on Venezuela
Pompeo is also scheduled to meet Monday with President Iván Duque and will be grateful for Colombia’s efforts to welcome Venezuelans “fleeing the corruption, repression and disastrous policies of Maduro,” a senior US diplomat told reporters. .
During the tour, which includes subsequent visits to Costa Rica and Jamaica, “the Secretary of State will try to mobilize greater pressure on the Maduro dictatorship, which until now has been able to survive despite diplomatic isolation and sanctions,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue analysis center, predicted.
In an interview with the Washington Post published Saturday, Maduro said he was in control of the country and declared himself open to direct negotiations with the United States to overcome the stagnation of the bilateral relationship.
The Trump administration, which does not recognize Maduro’s second term that initiated in January 2019, advocated for a dialogue to form a transitional government in Venezuela that calls for general elections before the end of the year. But it continues to argue that these conversations must begin by discussing Maduro’s departure.
Guaidó arrived in Bogotá on Sunday challenging the ban on leaving the country imposed by authorities loyal to Maduro.
It is the second time he has done so, after crossing the border into Colombia in February 2019 to try unsuccessfully to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
“We will generate the conditions that will lead us to freedom. And I assure you that the return to our country will be full of good news,” the opposition leader tweeted on Sunday before meeting President Duque.
Duque said in a tweet that the appointment had been “very productive.”
“We share advances in attention to migrants based in Colombia, and highlight the importance of restoring democracy in the neighboring country,” he said.