President Gustavo Petro has called on leaders of 19 countries and the European Union to “rebuild the path of peace” in Latin America.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro hosted world leaders in Bogotá for a day-long meeting to discuss the political situation in Venezuela, where critics have accused Nicolás Maduro’s government of suppressing the opposition.
Petro spoke at a meeting of representatives from 19 countries and the European Union at Palazzo San Carlos on Tuesday.
In it, he called on the international community to lift sanctions on Venezuela, but he also urged Maduro to arrange democratic elections in the country.
“The history of Latin America is in our hands,” Colombia’s first leftist president, Petro Petro, told diplomats.
He paints a picture of Latin America at a crossroads: either participants can “chart a path to war and the deconstruction of democracy, or we can rebuild the path to peace and democracy.”
Representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States attended the meeting, aimed at rekindling stalled talks between Maduro’s government and Venezuela’s political opposition.
The two sides had previously met in Mexico City to negotiate a solution to the political impasse in the country, but those talks collapsed in December.
Neither party attended Tuesday’s meeting. But the opposition alliance, the Platform for Democratic Unity, expressed support for the meeting, although some factions questioned Colombia’s role as a mediator.
Venezuela has faced a divided government since the 2018 presidential election. Maduro was re-elected in a landslide for a second six-year term — but only if some of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition parties are barred from participating.
That led critics of Maduro’s socialist government to declare the election illegitimate. After Maduro took office in January 2019, opposition leader Juan Guaido, then speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly, issued a declaration establishing a state of emergency. He also called himself an “interim president” to replace Maduro.
Some countries, such as the United States, have chosen to recognize the opposition government instead of Maduro’s and have imposed severe sanctions on Venezuela.
However, in recent months, Latin America has seen a wave of left-wing leaders elected to top positions in government, leading some countries to resume relations with Maduro’s government.
These include Colombia, which restored diplomatic ties under Petro, and Brazil, which restored diplomatic ties under leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who took office in January.
Guaidó himself has lost much of the support of the opposition, whose members voted in December to dissolve his government and remove him from the position of “interim president”.
On Monday, however, Guaido “walked” across the border from Venezuela into Colombia in an attempt to meet with diplomats for Tuesday’s meeting.
However, Colombia’s foreign ministry announced that immigration authorities had escorted Guaido to Bogotá’s El Dorado airport because he crossed the border “irregularly”.
On the plane to the U.S. city of Miami, Guaido denounced his treatment as an extension of the crackdown he allegedly suffered under the Maduro government. “Unfortunately, today’s persecution of the dictatorship spread to Colombia,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
But on Tuesday, Petro condemned the former opposition leader’s comments.
“Mr. Guaidó has not been fired,” he tweeted. “Lies are better left out of politics. Mr. Guaidó agreed to go to the United States. Although there were people coming in illegally, we allowed it for humanitarian reasons.”