US asks Colombia to defend ‘democratic norms’ after Maduro visit

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks beside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (not pictured) after the signing of documents during a bilateral agreement at the Miraflores Palace during his visit to Caracas, Venezuela on 16 February, 2022.Reuters

The United States called on Colombia to defend “democratic norms” after its new leftist president met with Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro this week in a turnaround between the formerly estranged neighbors.

The Latin American countries have reestablished diplomatic relations after a three-year hiatus, reflecting a leftist warming towards socialist Maduro, who the United States does not recognise as president and has been accused by the United Nations of crimes against humanity.

“We’ve urged Colombia to continue working with its partners in multilateral fora to advocate for a democratic and prosperous hemisphere as well, and to hold accountable governments that have violated the democratic rights and the democratic norms,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

He stopped short of criticizing the move by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, sworn in as the close US ally’s first leftist leader in August, and praised the country’s welcome to two million Venezuelan refugees.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in talks with Petro in Bogota last month, “discussed ways we can work together with Colombia to hold the Maduro regime to account,” Price said.

Price called on Maduro to engage with the opposition and said that US sanctions would remain in place.

“Our posture won’t change until and unless we see progress on the rights of the Venezuelan people,” Price said.

The United States, under previous president Donald Trump and with the strong backing of Colombia’s then-conservative government, declared Maduro’s administration illegitimate after widely criticized elections.

But Maduro has weathered sanctions, and even many critics of the Caracas government have increasingly dismissed the chances that he will fall to Juan Guaido, the opposition leader considered by Washington to be the interim president.

Oil-rich Venezuela’s economy has been in freefall with seven million people fleeing since 2014, according to UN figures.