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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Opposition leader says he left Venezuela after being threatened

Juan Guaido at his office in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 11, 2023. Guaido said late Monday, April 24 that he crossed the border into Colombia and hours later was put on a plane to the United States.

By Julie Turkewitz

Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, said late Monday that he had been forced out of Colombia, hours after crossing the border into the country after receiving threats from the Venezuelan government.

Speaking in a video posted on Twitter, Guaidó said he had entered Colombia with plans to meet with political representatives who had gathered to discuss the future of Venezuela. But rather than welcome him, he said, the Colombians kicked him out.

“The persecution of the dictatorship has extended, unfortunately, to Colombia today,” he said, speaking from what appeared to be an airplane. He said he was on his way to the United States.

Late Monday, Colombia’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Guaidó was in Bogotá “irregularly,” and that migration officials had taken him to the airport “with the intention of verifying his departure on a commercial airline to the United States.”

A representative from the government of Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, did not respond to a request for more information.

In 2019, Guaidó rose from little-known Venezuelan lawmaker to national hero after declaring Maduro an illegitimate ruler and himself the interim head of state. At the time, he posed the most significant threat to a deeply undemocratic and unpopular president, who had helped plunge Venezuela into an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Dozens of nations recognized Guaidó as the nation’s new leader, most prominently the United States. But Guaidó ultimately failed to oust Maduro, and late last year, his own colleagues in the opposition voted to dissolve his interim government and remove his title as interim president. Their assessment was that the parallel-government strategy would not be able to create political change, and that a new path was needed.

Maduro has jailed hundreds of political opponents over the years, and many have already fled for other countries, including Colombia. But Guaidó remained in Caracas with his family, under the assumption that arresting such a prominent leader would make Maduro even less popular at home and abroad.

Venezuela and Colombia share a long border and many cultural and economic ties, but their relationship became particularly strained under the previous Colombian government, led by President Iván Duque, a conservative.

Petro, Colombia’s new, leftist president, has restored the countries’ diplomatic relations, which were cut off in 2019, and has had multiple meetings with Maduro. Petro has tried to position himself as a broker between the Maduro government; the large, often fractured Venezuelan opposition, of which Guaidó is just one player; and the rest of the world.

He met last week in Washington with President Joe Biden, and the two leaders issued a joint statement condemning “all forms of authoritarianism and aggression in the world” and expressing interest in a “solution to the situation in Venezuela.”

On Tuesday, Petro is scheduled to host a meeting with representatives of approximately 20 nations to discuss Venezuela’s future. Two officials from the National Security Council in Washington, Jon Finer and Juan Gonzalez, are expected to attend, along with former Sen. Chris Dodd.

On Monday, Colombia’s foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, issued a notice clarifying that Guaidó had not been not invited to the meeting.

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