A confrontation has taken place between former Colombian President Ivan Duque and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, over Alex Saab, the controversial businessman and diplomat, accused by the United States of acting as a front man for the Venezuelan head of state. In a recent interview, Maduro accused Duque of ordering Saab’s death, before he was arrested and extradited to the United States from Cape Verde. Duque’s response was immediate, calling Maduro an “imbecile dictator of Venezuela” who “launches accusations without reason.”
“Two days before, a group of criminals hired by Ivan Duque of Colombia tried to kill Alex Saab in his home in Caracas. He miraculously escaped with his life”, stated Maduro in an interview with Ignacio Ramonet, Spanish journalist of Le Monde Diplomatique.
A historic confrontation
This has been the latest episode of a historical confrontation between the former president of Colombia, conservative Ivan Duque, and the Venezuelan head of state. It should be recalled that in 2019 Duque, when he was president of Colombia, gave unconditional support to the self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela, the oppositionist Juan Guaido, who was partially recognized by several countries in the world.
Since that moment, relations with the one who de facto exercised and exercises real power in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, have been tense and full of confrontations and controversies. To the point that it was Duque’s presidency who broke relations with the neighboring country, closing both the embassy in Caracas and the border between the two countries.
Guaido’s supposed presidency was a failure and now a year ago he renounced his political intentions, given his failure to seize effective power in the country. With the change of government in Colombia, relations have normalized, which has meant some relief for the border populations, who live from cross-border trade.
The confrontation, between the former Colombian president and Maduro has continued, in the form of statements and comments on their respective social networks.
Alex Saab, Maduro’s Colombian
The confrontation takes place in the context of the recent release of businessman and diplomat Alex Saab by the United States and his deportation to Venezuela, where he was received as a hero by the top brass of Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Saab had been detained for some time, accused of acting as Maduro’s personal front man, but was released as part of the agreement between the US and Venezuela. The process of détente began a few months ago, after the pact between the Venezuelan government and the opposition to prepare for democratic and transparent presidential elections at the end of 2024.
The businessman, of Colombian origin, has been working for years in Venezuela, in collaboration with its government since the time of President Chavez. According to the Venezuelan government, his trip to Iran, when he was arrested, was exclusively a diplomatic mission to obtain a supply of medicines through a country allied with Venezuela.
Nicolas Maduro has always defended Saab’s innocence, turning his arrest and imprisonment in the US into a symbol of the oppression that, according to him, is unjustly exercised by the international community against his country.
Controversial interview in France
In the recent interview of the Venezuelan president by the French media, he defined Saab as a Che Guevara, besides defending his integrity to the hilt. “I would tell you that Alex Saab has the temerity of a Che Guevara to face risks and dangers: he left; he was going to Iran; what was he going to Iran for? To guarantee gasoline for one year for Venezuela, 2020-2021, while we recovered the refinery. What was he going to Iran for? To get triangulated medicines from Iran. And on the way he was captured, he was kidnapped without cause,” said Maduro, referring to the moment when Saab was detained during a flight to Iran, which made a stopover in Cape Verde, in 2021.
The Venezuelan president also complained that the detention more than two years ago of Saab was “illegal”, as there was no international arrest warrant. “He had the protection of a diplomatic passport, a diplomatic official of a legitimate government, recognized by the United Nations. When they kidnap him, they violate the conventions that protect diplomatic immunity in the world, something very serious. And then, well, everything that is already known: the tortures…”, Maduro pointed out.
Likewise, the Venezuelan president took advantage of the pages of the French newspaper to deny the allegations that Saab was his front man. “I have never had a front man. I have never had a bank account abroad. I have never had companies, properties, nor do I want to have them in my life, never”, he stated categorically.
Direct accusations against Ivan Duque
Finally, in this controversial interview, Maduro took the opportunity to launch, without evidence, harsh accusations against former Colombian president Duque, in which he claimed that Duque participated in an assassination attempt against Alex Saab, shortly before his arrest in 2021. The response of the former Colombian head of state has been immediate.
“The imbecile dictator of Venezuela launches unreasonable and senseless accusations of attacks against his money launderer, Alex Saab. That criminal was captured by the U.S. and the evidence against him is overwhelming”, was Duque’s immediate response, through his social networks.
The former Colombian president made reference to Saab’s release, denying that this fact implies his innocence. “That he was released in a prisoner exchange is a reality, but the evidence of Saab and his relationship with Venezuela’s dictatorial narco-family is incontrovertible. The capture of Alex Saab was a success of collaboration between many countries and that was always the objective,” said the former president of Colombia.
At the end of his letter, Duque challenged Maduro to explain the alleged relationship of the Venezuelan president with Colombian illegal armed groups operating in Venezuelan territory. “Rather, let Maduro explain the payments to Ivan Mordisco for the attacks in Cucuta,” wrote Duque, who has always maintained that these armed gangs have the protection of Venezuela.