FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he speaks during a special session of the National Constituent Assembly to deliver his annual state of the nation speech, in Caracas, Venezuela January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday said he was willing to re-establish consular relations with neighboring Colombia, amid a standoff between the two countries over a fugitive former Colombian senator who was captured in Venezuela.
Maduro, a socialist, last year suspended relations and gave Colombian diplomatic and consular staff 24 hours to depart in response to conservative President Ivan Duque’s government’s help to the Venezuelan opposition’s efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the crisis-stricken country.
Colombia, like most Western democracies, recognizes Juan Guaido, chief of Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly, as the country’s rightful leader.
Colombia’s Justice Ministry earlier this week said it would approach Guaido to request the extradition of Aida Merlano, who was imprisoned last year for vote buying but fled by climbing out her dentist’s office. She was captured in Venezuela on Monday.
“It is a bad joke. Do you think Juan Guaido directs Venezuelan police?” Maduro said during a state television broadcast.
Nevertheless, he proposed the restart of consular relations between the two countries.
“We are neighbors … we are obligated to have diplomatic and political relations,” he said.
Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup and frequently accuses Duque of aiming to destabilize his government. On Wednesday he added that Merlano, in Venezuelan custody, was “saying everything about the Colombian political class.”
Duque earlier on Wednesday said Venezuela should deport Merlano through Interpol. He said Maduro had allowed many other countries that recognize Guaido to maintain a diplomatic presence in the country.
Reporting by Luc Cohen; additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; editing by Richard Pullin
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