June 24, 2024

Nicolás Maduro and his new partner: Gustavo Pedro

6 min read
Nicolás Maduro and his new partner: Gustavo Pedro

With the arrival of Gustavo Pedro to the presidency of Colombia in August 2022, a new era in bilateral relations between Colombia and Venezuela began. In a sharp shift, Pedro’s predecessor, Ivan Duque, focused his efforts on boycotting the government of Nicolás Maduro, leading a “diplomatic blockade” initiative in the region and publicly recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s head of government.

Shortly after Pedro became president, his first efforts focused on restoring relations with Venezuela, recognizing Nicolás Maduro as a legitimate interlocutor and naming Armando Benedetti, one of the strongest supporters of his presidential campaign, as ambassador to Caracas.

As for relations between countries, several topics are on the agenda: border security and the fight against guerrillas and other illegal armed groups in the region; management of Monomeros Colombo-Venezolanos, a fertilizer company important to Petro’s political stakes; Finally, the negotiations between the Venezuelan opposition and the Maduro government, in which Colombia acts as an ally.

Security

Since the turn of the century, relations between Colombia and Venezuela have been marked by ruptures and approximations. In Alvaro Uribe’s government, the first disagreement occurred with the government of Hugo Chávez over disagreements over Venezuela’s mediation of the release of some of those abducted by the FARC. With the arrival of Juan Manuel Santos, relations between the two countries resumed; Santos began referring to Chavez as “my new best friend”. Later, during the presidency of Ivan Duque, a new setback occurred with the breakdown of relations and even leadership on the part of the Colombian government, allowing Juan Guaidó to be recognized as the president of Venezuela on the international stage. Recently, Pedro resumed relations with Venezuela and wants to work with Nicolás Maduro to support the economies of both countries.

In terms of security, Colombia and Venezuela share a porous border through which illegal armed groups such as the FARC and ELN in the past and criminal gangs formed recently by mobilized members of the United Defense Forces. of Colombia, such as “Los Trails”. Internationally, some governments have condemned the presence of these groups’ camps on Venezuelan territory or their control of clandestine trade routes and smuggling of people entering Colombia illegally.

On the other hand, Venezuela has been an ally of the Colombian governments, which have tried to negotiate with the guerrillas to end the conflict: this was a guarantee in the peace talks with the FARC in Havana, which are still ongoing. ELN holders. In fact, in early 2023, there was a meeting between the Colombian government and the ELN in Venezuela, which broke the ceasefire by addressing some events and prevented a new cycle of dialogue. Also recently announced was a commitment to attempt joint efforts between the Colombian and Venezuelan militaries against ELN factions or dissidents who do not accept the cease-fire agreement.

Controversies

The Colombian-Venezuelan company Monomeros was formed in the late 1960s with the participation of government agencies from both countries, including Ecopetrol (Colombia’s state-owned hydrocarbon company) and Venezuela’s Petrochemical Company. His target is linked to the fertilizer market, especially after taking over Cargill’s operations in Colombia. However, in 2006, Colombia sold its shares to Venezuela, which ended up with 100% by buying the shares from another Dutch investor.

In 2019, following a split between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela, then-President of Colombia Ivan Duque recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, giving him control of Monomeros, a company registered in Colombia. Therefore, the Venezuelan opposition parties – Açion Democratica (Henrique Capriles) and Voluntad Popular (Juan Guaido and Leopoldo López) – were able to nominate company board members instead of those appointed by the Maduro government.

On an official visit to the United States, Gustavo Pedro supported the gradual lifting of sanctions against Venezuela.

With the change of president in Colombia, control of Monomeros returned to Maduro, and investigations were announced against Juan Guaido and a group appointed under his mandate for alleged irregularities in the management of the company. On the Colombian side, some officials, including the ambassador to Venezuela, said the government wants to buy back the company, mainly to meet domestic demand for fertilizers and a key part of Pedro’s discourse on food sovereignty and the promotion of agricultural production. But we will have to wait for the panorama of US sanctions against Maduro’s government, which penalizes investments in Venezuela, to clear, and for a firm offer for the company’s value. Also to be decided is whether the buyer will be the Colombian government or a mixed public-private entity.

Negotiations with opposition parties

On April 25, a summit of allied countries was held in Bogotá to revive the dialogue process between the Venezuelan government and its adversaries, reviving the meetings held by the two sides in Mexico. The talks seek, among other things, to ensure that the next presidential election in Venezuela in 2024 is free and transparent. Neither members of the Venezuelan government nor members of the opposition attended the meeting, but ambassadors from other countries such as the United States and Norway vouched for the process. There, it was promised to inform both the opposition and the Venezuelan government of the agreements reached and to continue the process of resuming negotiations in Mexico.

It is noteworthy that a few days before the summit, the Colombian president was on an official visit to the United States, in which he supported the gradual lifting of economic sanctions against Venezuela if it complies with electoral guarantees. Likewise, the United States has reopened its relations with Venezuela since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, easing some economic sanctions and unfreezing some accounts, with a commitment to promoting dialogue.

One of the events that caused an uproar at the Bogota summit was the arrival in the country of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who complained that he was not invited or taken into account. Guaidó was flown to Miami after the Venezuelan dissident’s entry into Colombia was treated irregularly – he did not get his passport stamped – and Gustavo Pedro said his trip to the country was arranged with the US government.

What comes next?

Gustavo Pedro’s international work focuses on presenting him as a South American leader who seeks to unite the Andean countries and, through a discourse on the care of the planet, wants to highlight the importance of the Amazon and other forests to mitigate climate change. Likewise, it sought to reactivate supranational organizations and alliances such as the Andean Community (CAN), taking advantage of the fact that the region once again has a majority of countries with left-wing governments.

Gustavo Pedro’s international work focused on presenting him as a leader in South America who sought to unify the Andean countries.

Its interests in relations with Venezuela seek to solve two main problems in Colombia: the presence of Venezuelan immigrants in its territory and the purchase of the Monomeros company. First, he has joint concerns with the United States because the North American country wants to prevent Venezuelan migrants from joining Central American migrant traders. As for Monomeros, the potential purchase is still pending resolution of US sanctions against Venezuela.

In this way, diplomacy and good neighborliness seek to benefit Colombian interests. Restoring relations between the two countries is a good starting point because it allows for different actions. It should also be understood that oil from Venezuela is now becoming an option for the United States due to the consequences of the war promoted by Russia, so sanctions and blockades may be eased to reopen this trade route.

Efforts by Colombia, the United States and the international community aimed at transparency and guarantees for the 2024 Venezuelan presidential elections will continue. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s re-election and the government of Gustavo Pedro, moving toward the end of the first four years of his term, are middle of the road.

© 2023 Acerenza. Published with permission. Original In Spanish.

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