While Colombia refuses to recognize the government of Nicolás Maduro, the extradition of a former Colombian congressman fugitive from justice seems to be complicated.
Nicolás Maduro and Iván Duque. / Photos: Reuters
LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez
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Leer en español: Maduro Vs Duque: nuevas tensiones entre Venezuela y Colombia
On January 27, speculation began about the alleged capture of Aída Merlano, a former Colombian congresswoman who since last October was a fugitive from justice, after escaping from prison authorities. After hours of uncertainty, the FAES (Special Action Forces of the National Police) of Venezuela confirmed that they had captured her and that the Colombian remained in Venezuelan power.
The government of Nicolás Maduro, which the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, does not recognize as legitimate, affirmed that they had the former congresswoman, that she would remain under preventive detention, that the Venezuelan Prosecutor had charged her with three charges and that Venezuelan justice had already started to interrogate her.
According to the Prosecutor's Office of that country, at the head of Tarek William Saab, the Colombian will be tried in Venezuela for the crimes of usurpation of identity, use of false documents and association to commit crimes, since she was captured with different false documents with which she had passed through the country.
1) #AHORA el @MinpublicoVE presenta ante juzgado 13 de control ( Zulia ) a AIDA MERLANO REBOLLEDO ex senadora colombiana ... dicha ciudadana ha sido imputada por el Fiscal 35 Nac por los delitos de USURPACIÓN DE IDENTIDAD, USO DE DOCUMENTO FALSO y ASOCIACIÓN PARA DELINQUIR— Tarek William Saab (@TarekWiliamSaab) January 29, 2020
A movie escape
Merlano's escape went around the world months ago because it was a movie event. The Colombian woman, who was in jail for electoral crimes related to the purchase of votes in the 2018 elections, left El Buen Pastor Prison, exclusively for women, to attend a medical appointment in northern Bogotá.
Taking advantage of this act outside the protocol of a common inmate, the former congresswoman fled, with the help of some members of the office, changed clothes and went out the window of the third floor of the medical building. Upon reaching the street, a man on a motorcycle, dressed in Rappi's uniform, picked her up and fled.
Since her disappearance, it was speculated that she would be in Venezuela, although her whereabouts were not known publicly.
The capture of a person who could only represent interest for Colombian justice and little or nothing for Venezuela, ended up becoming a diplomatic problem, worsening more the situation that the neighboring nations face since months ago.
Aída Merlano became an important piece for the government of Nicolás Maduro. On the one hand, it is they who are in her custody and it was the FAES, a Chavista force, that captured her. The fact that the Colombian government does not have diplomatic relations with Venezuela, means that they will not be able to make an extradition to judge Merlano in their native country.
Faced with this, the first reaction of the Colombian government was to ask Juan Guaidó, whom Colombia considers the legitimate president of Venezuela, the extradition of the former congresswoman. But this action was not successful, since it was Guaidó himself who affirmed, according to La Silla Vacía, that given the institutional situation that Venezuela is going through, the Colombian extradition is not an issue within his reach.
This has been considered a false fall for both the Colombian government and the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who had just finished an international tour to strengthen relations with the countries that have legitimized him as president of Venezuela. However, the Venezuelan opponent has reaffirmed his commitment to help the Colombian government to be able to access Aída Merlano.
Esta nueva maniobra desesperada no le servirá al dictador: comunicamos al Presidente @IvanDuque que el Gobierno legítimo de Venezuela le dará todo el respaldo institucional para brindar de legalidad y legitimidad el restablecimiento del servicio consular, cuando decidan hacerlo.— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) January 30, 2020
According to various political analysts, the decision to request extradition from the interim government was rushed and equivocal. The columnist of La Silla Vacía and consultant in electoral marketing said that “we should not even be talking about extradition, the Colombian government hastened and was in the worst of the worlds: it gave the agenda and the narrative of the Merlano case to Nicolás Maduro”. This, since it is the Venezuelan justice the one in charge of Merlano and the breaking of the relations of both countries makes it difficult for Duque to access a diplomatic solution.
Although the sovereignty of a country can be affected by the decision of the international community by deciding to legitimize one or another leader, as in the case of Juan Guaidó who is legitimized by more than 50 countries, in the end the territorial power is remains in Nicolás Maduro's regime. This means that Guaidó does not have power over any of the organs of the State. Hence, the impossibility that the extradition of Aída Merlano could be in charge of the interim government.
In addition to this, Aída Merlano became an important piece in the political game of Nicolás Maduro against the rivalry of both countries. The former congresswoman is sponsored by two powerful families from the Caribbean coast of Colombia to which other electoral crimes are presumed. These families, linked to the conservative party, have also had affinity for the ruling party, so it is believed that the information that the former congresswoman possesses could affect many other important figures in Colombian politics.
Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro has lashed out at Iván Duque and told him 'gross' and 'obtuse' for his decision to request extradition from the interim government. Likewise, Diosdado Cabello said that the former congresswoman “is talking animatedly and sent greetings to Uribe,” referring to those possible links that could affect other Colombian politicians.
Amid the strong declarations of Venezuelan leaders, Nicolás Maduro made the reestablishment of diplomatic relations available to the Colombian government. “I call to leave ideological and political extremism behind. Enough of such folly! ”, he said on his Twitter account.
Ratifico mi disposición a restablecer las relaciones consulares con el gobierno de Colombia para que tengamos comunicaciones fluidas y de respeto, a pesar de nuestras diferencias. Hago un llamado a dejar atrás los extremismos ideológicos y políticos. ¡Basta de Tanta Insensatez! pic.twitter.com/oOKO2AjUGh— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) January 30, 2020
Despite this, the president of Colombia said that “the dictatorship cannot be hidden in arguments to take advantage” and spoke that since 2017 relations between the two countries had deteriorated due to the poor conditions that officials of the embassy of Colombia in Venezuela. Instead of accessing Maduro's invitation, Duque is trying to get the former congresswoman back to Colombian soil after getting deportation from Interpol.
Ante la expulsión de nuestro cuerpo diplomático en Venezuela y captura de la excongresista vinculada en actos de corrupción, la dictadura no puede ocultarse en argumentos para sacar provecho. Por eso, cumplidos los procedimientos de Interpol, solo les corresponde la deportación. pic.twitter.com/y0AurkBmZl— Iván Duque (@IvanDuque) January 30, 2020