Colombian President Gustavo Petro greeted world leaders in Bogota for a day-long conference to discuss the political situation in Venezuela, where critics accuse the Nicolas Maduro administration of suppressing dissent.
Representatives from 19 countries and the European Union met at the San Carlos Palace on Tuesday, and Pietro opened the meeting with a speech.
In it, he called on the international community to lift sanctions against Venezuela, but also pressured Maduro to hold democratic elections in the country.
“The history of Latin America is in our hands,” Petro, Colombia’s first left-leaning president, told diplomats.
He depicted Latin America at a crossroads: either those present could “characterize a path leading to war and the dismantling of democracy, or we can rebuild a path to peace and democracy”.
Representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States attended the conference, which was meant to revive stalled talks between the Maduro administration and Venezuela’s political opposition.
The two sides had met earlier in Mexico City to broker a solution to the country’s political impasse, but those talks broke down last December.
None of the warring parties attended Tuesday’s conference. But the opposition coalition, the United Democratic Platform, expressed support for the meeting, although some factions questioned Colombia’s role as mediator.
Since the 2018 presidential election, Venezuela has faced a divided government. Maduro was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second six-year term – but only after some of Venezuela’s main opposition parties were banned from participating.
This prompted critics of Maduro’s socialist government to declare the election illegitimate. After Maduro’s inauguration in January 2019, Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition and then president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, issued a statement declaring a state of emergency. He also called himself the “interim president” in place of Maduro.
Some countries, such as the United States, have chosen to recognize Maduro’s ruling opposition government and impose heavy sanctions on Venezuela.
However, in recent months Latin America has seen a wave of left-wing leaders elected to high government positions, prompting some countries to renew ties with the Maduro government.
These include Colombia, which restored diplomatic relations under Petro, and Brazil, which renewed relations under leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who inaugurated in January.
Guaido himself lost much of the opposition’s support, and in December opposition members voted to dissolve his government and remove him as “interim president”.
However, on Monday, Guaido crossed the border from Venezuela into Colombia “on foot” in an attempt to meet diplomats at a conference on Tuesday.
However, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the immigration authorities escorted Guaido to El Dorado Airport in Bogotá, from where he crossed the border “irregularly”.
On a flight to the US city of Miami, Guaidó denounced his treatment as an extension of the repression he had allegedly suffered under the Maduro government. “Unfortunately, the oppression of the dictatorship has spread to Colombia today,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
But Petro on Tuesday rebuked the former opposition leader’s comments.
He wrote on Twitter: “Mr. Guaidó was not expelled. It is better not to show lies in politics. Mr. Guaidó had an agreement to go to the US. We allowed it on humanitarian grounds despite illegal entry into the country.”