Colombia President Gustavo Petro on Tuesday denied expelling leading Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido, but accused him of entering the country illegally.
On Monday, Guaido claimed to have been kicked out of Colombia, hours after he arrived in Bogota for a conference on his crisis-torn country hosted by Petro.
“Mr. Guaido was not expelled and it is better that this lie does not appear in politics,” wrote Petro on Twitter.
Petro said Guaido had been allowed to travel to Miami, where he arrived on Tuesday, “for humanitarian reasons despite the illegal entry into the country.”
Neither Guaido, recognized in 2019 by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s de facto leader, nor Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were invited to attend Tuesday’s conference.
Petro organized it in a bid to restart negotiations between Venezuela’s government and the opposition that began in Mexico City in 2021 but reached a deadlock in November.
Venezuela’s opposition, backed by many countries including the United States, did not recognize Maduro’s 2018 re-election in a vote widely dismissed as fraudulent.
The next year, Washington ramped up sanctions against Caracas, which were first imposed in 2015 over the brutal repression of anti-government protests a year earlier.
Last month, a Venezuelan official said free presidential elections in 2024 were dependent on the lifting of sanctions.
– ‘Making noise’ –
Guaido said in a statement on Monday that he had walked across the border from Venezuela to Colombia.
“I have just arrived in Colombia, in the same way as millions of Venezuelans before me — on foot,” he said.
“I hope the summit can guarantee that the Maduro regime will return to the negotiation table in Mexico and that a credible timeline can be agreed upon for free and fair elections to be held as a solution for the conflict.”
Guaido later posted a video on Twitter that he appeared to have filmed from inside a plane.
“After 60 hours on the road to get to Bogota, escaping the persecution of the dictatorship, defying the Maduro regime, they are taking me out of Colombia,” he said.
In Miami, Guaido told local media that he was “very worried” about his family and colleagues, whom he said had been threatened in Venezuela after he traveled to Colombia.
Colombia’s foreign ministry said Guaido, who arrived in Bogota in an “irregular manner,” was taken to the capital city’s El Dorado airport for a “departure on a commercial airline to the United States during the night.”
“The ticket had already been purchased by him,” the statement added.
Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva claimed Guaido had slipped over the border without Colombian authorities knowing.
“Here, we have not closed the doors to anyone, this is not a country that expels, it is a country that simply seeks to have its constitution and law complied with,” said Leyva.
– Call to protest –
Under Petro’s predecessor, right-wing president Ivan Duque, Colombia had been Guaido’s main regional backer, breaking diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government.
The left-wing Petro reversed this decision, taking up instead a leading role in a process aimed at ending Venezuela’s crisis through negotiations.
Even though he was not officially invited to attend the conference, Guaido had hoped to hold talks with visiting officials on the sidelines of the meeting.
The conference brought together nearly two dozen delegations from countries in Latin America, North America and Europe in an attempt to unfreeze negotiations between the government and opposition.
Guaido has also called for a protest to be held on Bogota’s Plaza de Bolivar square, a short walk from the palace where the conference will take place.
Guaido, who led a symbolic interim government from 2019 until January this year, has rejected calls by Colombia’s Petro for sanctions against Venezuela to be lifted.
Venezuela’s divided opposition disbanded the interim government in January.