BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia rejected a proposal to resume diplomatic relations with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government on Thursday, amid a dispute over a fugitive former Colombian congresswoman who was captured in Venezuela.
Maduro abruptly cut diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia last February after Colombian President Ivan Duque helped Venezuelan opposition politicians deliver humanitarian aid to their crisis-stricken country.
Colombia, like the majority of Western democracies, recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president.
“We see little possibility to provide consular and other services in Venezuela, plainly and simply because of the constant aggressions doled out by the dictatorship against many countries that have rejected it,” Duque told journalists Thursday.
Maduro proposed the resumption of consular relations between the countries on Wednesday, as Colombia seeks the extradition of former Colombian congresswoman Aida Merlano. Merlano was detained in January in Venezuela’s Zulia state, which borders Colombia, four months after she escaped custody in Venezuela.
The former lawmaker, imprisoned in Colombia for buying votes in 2018, made a dramatic escape by lowering herself by rope from a second-floor orthodontist’s office last October. She fled on the back of a motorbike.
Maduro and officials in his government said on Wednesday that Merlano had told them stories of corruption among Colombia’s political class, hinting they could reveal them. Merlano was charged by a Venezuelan court with identity theft, using fake documents and conspiring to commit crimes.
“They shouldn’t mock the laws and institutions that would see Aida Merlano deported, so that she can face the full weight of Colombian law,” Duque said. “She is a criminal and we hope she will arrive in our country to be judged and sentenced in accordance with the crimes she has committed.”
Colombia asked Guaido to secure her extradition this week. The opposition leader committed to doing so, but he has no control over Venezuela’s police or judiciary.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Heather Timmons