The United States is seeking Colombia’s mediation with Venezuela in order to guarantee the holding of free elections later this year, with the participation of opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado. The Venezuelan justice system confirmed last week the disqualification of Machado, leader of the opposition and unity candidate, from running for the Venezuelan presidency.
As reported by Bloomberg, about twenty senior U.S. officials met with the Colombian ambassador in Washington, Luis Gilberto Murillo. Among them were Brian Nichols, from the State Department, and Juan González, from the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere. What is being sought is a regional alliance to guarantee the holding of free and transparent elections in Venezuela, with all options for the opposition.
Murillo has been suggested these days as a possible replacement for the Colombian Foreign Minister, Alvaro Leyva, who has been temporarily disqualified by the Colombian justice due to accusations of misconduct in the passport bidding process.
President Petro as a key person
In this U.S. diplomatic initiative, the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, would be a key person. The Colombian president was one of the first regional leaders to facilitate détente with Nicolas Maduro, recovering his country’s diplomatic and commercial relations with neighboring Venezuela, which had been broken for five years.
His constant visits to Caracas in the year and a half that he has held the presidency of Colombia have made possible a relationship of understanding with the isolated Venezuelan government. He has made a total of five trips to Venezuela, the last one having been in last November.
In addition, Caracas hosted the first round of peace talks between the Colombian State and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group at the end of 2022. The fourth round was also held there in the Venezuelan capital last September, with the announcement of an agreement on humanitarian aid in the regions in conflict.
Bloomberg also indicated that Juan Gonzalez and Jon Finer, Deputy National Security Advisor of the United States, are scheduled to travel to Colombia this Monday, February 5, to meet with Petro and other regional leaders, seeking their mediation in the dispute between Maduro and the opposition leader, María Corina Machado.
Petro’s silence on Machado’s disqualification
Recently, President Gustavo Petro has been the target of numerous criticisms in Colombia, due to his silence on the recent events in Venezuela. While several presidents have publicly criticized and shown their concern for the persecution of the Venezuelan opposition, the Colombian head of state has not spoken out on the issue.
Now, however, the Colombian president could be a key player to unblock the situation in the neighboring country. This would turn Gustavo Petro into a top level interlocutor for the United States in the region.
For now, neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor President Petro himself have made any statement on the U.S. request for mediation. It is expected that the steps, if any, will be taken discreetly, with the objective of enabling the Venezuelan presidential elections to be held this year and with all options on the table for the opposition.
The U.S. will bet on diplomacy
If the Bloomberg Group’s information is confirmed, the United States will not reimpose sanctions against Venezuela, a strategy which has been implemented for years without any positive result from the impervious government of Nicolas Maduro.
This would signal a change of direction in U.S. policy, opting instead for diplomatic action to try to enforce the Barbados Agreements, which oblige Venezuela to respect the electoral rights of the opposition.
The announcement to reinstate some temporary U.S. sanctions against Venezuela would only be a way to show firmness in the eyes of the U.S. public.
In an election year in the United States, President Biden needs facts to prove his performance in the international arena. Achieving free elections in Venezuela could favor Biden’s reelection aspirations, especially among voters of Latin American origin who, according to polls, for the first time in history would be more supportive of the Republicans in a presidential vote.