The embattled leader invited two senior figures of FARC – also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – to his country. Speaking alongside Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel at a socialist forum, Mr Maduro called Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich “leaders of peace”. The two former commanders went missing after being accused of drug-trafficking charges in the US – and Venezuela may risk a furious response from Washington as well as Colombia if they are found in the country.
Colombia President Ivan Duque claimed two weeks ago without evidence that three missing FARC leaders were in Venezuela under Mr Maduro’s protection.
He added: “I believe that Jesus Santrich is being protected in Venezuela.
“He did not present himself when he was summoned by justice and, because of the proximity of that place where he was, he quite surely is in Venezuela today with the protection of the government.
“Over there in Venezuela are Ivan Marquez, El Paisa, Romaña and they are not playing with dolls over there, they are protected by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.”
Maduro said he would welcome the former rebels
One such FARC member, Ivan Marquez
However, Mr Maduro claimed his innocence with a jibe at his Colombian counterpart.
He said: “They had announced that Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich were coming, and I was left waiting.
“Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich are welcome in Venezuela and at the Sao Paulo Forum, the two of them are leaders of peace.”
He also claimed that two other FARC leaders, Timochenko and Pablo Catatumbo, were welcome.
This is not the first time that the two nations have clashed over the alleged harbouring of FARC personnel, though.
Until 2016, FARC was a guerilla movement which took on the Colombian state and right-wing paramilitary groups.
It aimed to seize power through armed revolution until 2016, when it demobilised and became a political party instead.
During their time as a military operation, however, they received great support from Mr Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
The infamous 2008 ‘FARC files’ revealed that Mr Chavez was actively permitting safe havens for militants.
It has led the Colombian state to believe that FARC dissidents who refused to demobilise are now taking refuge in neighbouring Venezuela.
The US, who actively supported the Colombian state against FARC with millions in aid, may also condemn Mr Maduro’s words – and could use them as an excuse to impose more sanctions or take even more drastic action.
A protest against Chavez for being complicit with the FARC rebels
Duque and Trump
Washington officials see Colombia as a crucial foothold in the ideological battle in Latin America – and may be inclined to support Mr Duque against Mr Maduro.
Mr Maduro’s words add fuel to the fire of combative rhetoric between the Colombian and Venezuelan leaders.
Tensions sparked earlier this year when Mr Duque backed opposition leader Juan Guaido as the rightful leader of Venezuela.
February saw Mr Maduro break off diplomatic relations with his counterpart after Mr Duque allowed Mr Guaido to operate in Colombia.
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