arriving at talks venezuelan opposition leader is rebuffed and rerouted

Juan Guaidó said that he crossed the border into Colombia, but was put on a plane to the United States hours later.

Not long ago, Juan Guaidó was leading protests in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, and being feted at the White House, with dozens of nations backing his claim to be the nation’s rightful leader.

But in a sign of how much his position has changed, Mr. Guaidó could not muster even an invitation to talks about his country’s future in Bogotá, Colombia on Tuesday, and when he tried to attend the meeting anyway, he was quickly shuffled onto a flight to the United States.

Mr. Guaidó accused the Colombian government of expelling him, which Colombia’s president denied. The contentious back-and-forth highlighted how Mr. Guaidó’s longtime backers, without disavowing him, have moved on to other priorities and strategies in dealing with Venezuela’s current authoritarian government.

Latin American nations and the United States, all facing an energy crunch and waves of Venezuelan migrants fleeing poverty and crime, have sought to restart talks in part by offering enticements to the country’s leader, Nicolás Maduro. President Gustavo Petro of Colombia restored diplomatic relations with Venezuela after he took office last year, and the Biden administration has eased some minor sanctions and granted the Chevron Corporation a license for a limited expansion of energy operations.

The opening of an international conference on the political process in Venezuela was held in Bogotá, Colombia, on Tuesday.Juan Barreto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Guaidó, in a video posted on Twitter late Monday, said that he had entered Colombia planning to meet with political representatives, who had gathered in Bogotá, the capital, to discuss Venezuela’s future. He said he was promptly expelled. “The persecution of the dictatorship has extended, unfortunately, to Colombia today,” he said, speaking from what appeared to be an airplane.

President Petro denied that Mr. Guaidó had been forcibly deported, saying on Twitter, “it is better that the lie does not appear in politics.” He said that Mr. Guaidó had been under an agreement to travel to the U.S., which Colombia had allowed “for humanitarian reasons despite the illegal entry to the country.”

He added that Mr. Guaidó would have granted the Venezuelan opposition leader asylum if he had asked for it. “He has no reason to enter the country illegally,” Mr. Petro said.

On Monday, Colombia’s foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, issued a notice clarifying that Mr. Guaidó had not been invited to the Bogotá meeting. At a news conference on Tuesday he commented on Mr. Guaidó’s sudden appearance in Colombia by saying, “there was an intention to make noise.”

He also said that after Mr. Guaidó’s arrival, Colombian migration officers and U.S. agents took him to the airport for transfer to a commercial flight.

“What happened yesterday was a jointly elaborated and prepared action with the United States,” Mr. Leyva said, adding, “We needed to apply the law.”

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said that after Mr. Guaidó arrived in Colombia “unannounced,” U.S. diplomats had worked closely with the Colombian government to get him to the United States. Citing confidentiality, he did not say whether Mr. Guaidó, who was reported to be in Miami, had sought asylum or protection.

The United States was once Mr. Guaidó’s most vocal backer, hailing his declaration in 2019 that Nicolás Maduro was an illegitimate ruler and that he should be considered the interim head of state. At the time, he posed the most significant threat to Mr. Maduro, a deeply undemocratic and unpopular president, who had helped plunge Venezuela into an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Venezuelans protested as international delegates gathered for a conference focused on Venezuela’s political crisis in Bogotá, Colombia, on Tuesday. Ivan Valencia/Associated Press

Dozens of nations recognized Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader. But when he failed to make any progress against Mr. Maduro his support waned, and late last year his own colleagues in the opposition dissolved his interim government. Their assessment was that the parallel-government strategy was not capable of creating political change, and that a new path was needed.

Since he was voted out as the opposition leader, Mr. Guaidó has faced increasing threats from Mr. Maduro’s government, which has jailed hundreds of political opponents over the years. Many opposition members have already fled for other countries, including Colombia, but Mr. Guaidó has remained in Caracas with his family, under the assumption that the arrest of such a prominent leader would make Mr. Maduro even less popular at home and abroad.

Venezuela and Colombia share a long border, and many cultural and economic ties, but their relationship became noticeably strained under the previous Colombian government, led by Iván Duque, a conservative.

Mr. Petro, Colombia’s new, leftist president, has had multiple meetings with Mr. Maduro, who has helped him negotiate with the National Liberation Army, a major Colombian rebel group that has made inroads in Venezuela. Mr. Petro has tried to position himself as a broker between the Maduro government, the large, often fractured Venezuelan opposition and the rest of the world.

He met last week in Washington with President Biden, and the two leaders issued a statement condemning “all forms of authoritarianism and aggression in the world” and expressing interest in a “solution to the situation in Venezuela.”

Inaugurating the meeting in Bogotá on Tuesday, Mr. Petro called for free and fair elections in Venezuela, but did not mention Mr. Maduro or any opposition figures. He also spoke little about punitive measures against Mr. Maduro’s government, saying that “Venezuelan society does not want to be sanctioned.”

Iñigo Alexander and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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