Venezuela

Venezuela’s ‘diplomats in exile’ gather in Colombia amid power struggle back home

They’re diplomats in exile — men and women who hobnob with foreign dignitaries but would likely face arrest if they went home. On Saturday they gathered in Bogotá, Colombia, as they plot the downfall of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and seek to usher in a new era.

Thirteen ambassadors appointed by Venezuela’s Interim President Juan Guaidó began meeting this weekend amid the growing realization that change in the South American country won’t happen overnight, and as they seek ways to win over some of Maduro’s remaining allies: Cuba, Russia, China and Turkey.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who inaugurated the event, admitted that there were rumblings of discontent among some of Guaidó’s supporters — people who fear that his push to seize the presidency, which began in earnest in January, is losing steam. But Trujillo said the 35-year-old politician was setting the stage for regime change.

“The Soviet Union didn’t fall overnight. The democratic world had to create the conditions so that, finally, the point came where the Soviet Union disappeared,” he said. “And the same thing is happening in Venezuela. The conditions are being created.”

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“We aren’t the ones who should feel uneasy,” he said. “The tyrant is the one who should feel uneasy.”

Maduro has managed to hold onto power even amid record-low approval ratings, a broad economic collapse, a grinding humanitarian crisis and a barrage of international sanctions. He argues that elections last year — decried as fraudulent by many — give him the right to run the country through 2025. He and his allies consider Guaidó a treasonous usurper but have stopped short of arresting him.

While Washington and more than 50 nations recognize Guaidó, Maduro seems to have the support of the upper-echelons of the military and a core group of international allies. In recent months, Russia has sent at least 100 military advisers to help prop up his government.

On Saturday, the diplomats acknowledge they need to win over Maduro’s backers.

Carlos Vecchio, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States, said Guaidó’s diplomatic corps is reaching out to his allies.

“The Russians and Cubans aren’t just supporting tyranny they are supporting the suffering of the Venezuelan people, because as long as this dictatorship exists, Venezuela will suffer,” he said. “What we are telling Russia is that Nicolás Maduro represents the past…the only future is with us. And we would like to have respectful relations with every country.”

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While Guaidó hasn’t appointed ambassadors to countries that don’t recognize him, there have been “formal and informal” attempts to reach out to them, said Julio Borge’s, Venezuela’s representative to the Lima Group, a bloc of 14 nations.

In addition, the entire Lima Group is planning to meet with Russia, Turkey and China in coming days in hopes of making its case for them to abandon Maduro.

Saturday’s meeting comes as Guaidó continues to hold massive street demonstrations and is encouraging the military to defect. On May 1, he’s calling for the “world’s largest” march as part of what he calls “Operation Liberty.” In the past he’s promised supporters that soon they would be descending on the Miraflores Presidential palace — a provocative move that would likely lead to a bloody confrontation. But it’s still unclear if that will be the goal of next week’s march.

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