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Gustavo Petro: What Will Be His Relationship With the Venezuelan Opposition?

The new president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, is torn between a complete understanding with his Venezuelan counterpart and the protection of exiles .

Gustavo Petro, President of Colombia

Photo: TW-petrogustavo

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: Gustavo Petro: ¿Cuál va a ser su relación con la oposición venezolana?

While the governments of presidents Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) and Gustavo Petro (Colombia) work towards the reestablishment of bilateral relations, the uncertainty of the position that the new tenant in the House of Nariño will have with the Venezuelan opposition is growing.
During the years of the social and political crisis in Venezuela, millions of Venezuelans found refuge in Colombia. Among the refugees, there is also an unknown number of political refugees who now view the new Colombian president with suspicion.

In search of a new ally

For years, former Colombian President Iván Duque was the Venezuelan opposition's greatest ally in the region. Not only was it one of the first governments to recognize the opposition Juan Guaidó as interim president, in parallel to Nicolás Maduro, but it also provided refuge for several opponents of Chavismo.

While Duque was Colombian president, the opposition found refuge, asylum, and even a center of operations in the country. The former Colombian president was fully committed to the cause and did not reestablish relations with Maduro under any circumstances.

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However, this commitment that Duque and Uribismo aways made available to the Venezuelan opposition was rewarded and acclaimed by important political figures far removed from Chavismo. So much so that the participation of several of these in past political campaigns in Colombia in favor of right-wing figures and against left-wing candidates could take a toll when today the current president is Gustavo Petro.

Guaido and Petro

Long before taking office as president, Petro described the interim Venezuelan president as a "nonexistent president." Although his arguments were clear in the little control that Guaidó had of the Venezuelan institutions, many, today, see this as a clear distance between the two.
This is why for a week, the Venezuelan politician announced that "We are going to look for formal mechanisms of communication with the president and with the Government of Gustavo Petro. (...) Until now we have not done it beyond some informal meetings, but we are going to formally seek to have a dialogue because of importance for Venezuelans," at a press conference.

Gustavo Petro in the campaign also branded the Government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela as a dictatorship. This leaves room for the new Colombian president to maneuver between reestablishing relations with the neighboring country while maintaining a healthy distance for himself, his government, and Venezuelan opponents.

The opposition beyond Juan Guaidó

It is already known that Petro, different from what Duque preferred, will reestablish relations with the Miraflores Palace. What is not yet known is what relationship he will have with several members close to Guaidó and members of the opposition.

Because, precisely, during the years of greatest political persecution of Venezuelan opponents, many fled to Colombia. The persecuted politicians of Maduro, including party leaders and journalists, arrived in Colombia as exiles. The memory of several deserting soldiers of the Venezuelan National Guard who fled from Venezuela and were received by Iván Duque is still fresh. Upon arrival, they were promised shelter and support.

Now the question will be whether, if arrest warrants are issued for Venezuela, Petro will allow the extradition of opposition leaders. The fear is latent and that is why Juan Pablo Guanipa, leader of the opposition party Primero Justicia, asked the new president Petro to “protect the persecuted and political exiles”

“Ensuring the protection of the politically persecuted and exiled Venezuelans in their homeland is an obligation acquired by Colombia in international law. Maduro will try to lay hands on this dissidence, the Colombian State and its institutions are the last retaining wall so that they do not end up in the dungeons of the dictatorship," Guanipa said in a press release.
A former student leader and Venezuelan political prisoner, Pablo Parada, told Bloomberg that he feels “very insecure in Colombia right now. Maduro's ties to the incoming president are no secret. We are sure that the Government of Venezuela will want the surrender of members of the resistance and the military. We are a threat."
The fear is latent and for this reason, many await with special interest the position that Petro will take with the opponents, beyond his closeness to Nicolás Maduro and his disinterest in Juan Guaidó.