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Petro’s Ambassador Threatens Venezuelans in Colombia

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ONCE Gustavo Petro’s ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, took office, he prepared to make Colombia an ally of Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship. The day he set foot in Caracas, after handing over his credentials to Maduro, he visited several Chavista officials, who are accused of either human rights violations, drug trafficking, or money laundering.

The images are disgusting. Benedetti hugs Diosdado Cabello, accused of drug trafficking, head of the Cartel of the Suns and whose head is worth $10 million to American justice. They laugh together. Benedetti poses next to Tareck El Aissami, accused of drug trafficking in the United States and linked to Islamic terrorism. Benedetti sits next to Defense Minister Padrino López, responsible for the 2017 massacres against the Venezuelan opposition, torturing them and sanctioned by numerous countries. And so, the list goes on.

But the worst part is not the tragic authoritarian spectacle or some statements such as the one that Colombia will withdraw the lawsuit against Maduro in the International Criminal Court, but what awaits Venezuelans. And not only Venezuelans in their country, ruled by the oppressive regime, but also Venezuelans in Colombia.

On September 7, Ambassador Benedetti tweeted, “Judicial cooperation between Venezuela and Colombia is already activated.”

So far, the argument of Gustavo Petro’s government to reestablish relations with a country that until a couple of months ago, Colombia, under the government of former President Iván Duque, did not know, was strictly economic.

That is to say, although Petro recognized that Maduro was a dictator, he considered that relations with Venezuela should be reestablished in addition to economic stability between the two nations. However, the ideological and clearly authoritarian spirit embodied in Petro and his officials always raised the possibility that their intentions went far beyond economic matters.

For the highly prestigious and prominent Venezuelan diplomat Diego Arria, Benedetti’s tweet is a clear threat to Venezuelans in Colombia.

“Evidently, it is a threat to the opposition. It is a less than subtle threat to those in Colombia. What they call ‘judicial cooperation’ would be the delivery of Venezuelans to the Maduro regime,” Arria said in an interview.

“Petro is revealing his true colors with a speed that I did not imagine,” Arria added.

A significant percentage of Maduro’s politically persecuted people took asylum in Colombia, the country where most Venezuelans outside their country are living. Many were granted asylum by the government of Iván Duque, Maduro’s adversary. Now that a head of state ideologically aligned with Chavism is taking office, some fear that the condition of the politically persecuted will change.

When Benedetti speaks of “judicial cooperation,” he is hardly referring to Colombians in Venezuela. Although the main Colombian guerrilla groups, such as the FARC and the ELN, operate from Venezuela nowadays, Petro’s government has made it clear that it will not pursue them judicially. Instead, he hopes that they will accompany dialogue and peace processes. This has been a cornerstone of Petro’s proposals.

In contrast, the Maduro regime does have an interest in several of the Venezuelans now taking refuge in Colombia, such as some officials of the Guaidó interim government, journalists and dissident activists.

Benedetti’s threat, not at all subtle, as Arria said, must face the greatest repudiation from the democrats of the world. It is shameful that a country with a democratic tradition as long as Colombia’s, which has embraced liberty and an anti-subversive experience so strong, today falls at the bloodied feet of a tyranny such as Maduro’s.

What Benedetti is doing should be considered treason. And, eventually, a violation of human rights. Those who shake hands with murderers are also soaked in blood.

Orlando Avendaño

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