(Bogotá) At the initiative of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, representatives of around twenty countries met in Colombia on Tuesday to try to relaunch dialogue in neighboring Venezuela between the Chavista government of Nicolas Maduro and its opposition.

For Bogota, the objective of this summit, already marked by the express and undesirable passage of the opponent Juan Guaidó, is to “contribute to the resumption of political dialogue”, while the negotiations started in Mexico City in August 2021, already under international mediation, have been on hold since November.

One hour behind the official schedule, the meeting began at the end of the morning in Bogota, in the San Carlos palace, which houses the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several representatives of the United States, including the special envoy for the Americas Chris Dodd, as well as the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrel, were present.

“This kind of meeting raises great expectations, or on the contrary can lead to great disappointments”, underlined in his opening speech President Petro, for whom “two great processes” are currently underway “in this corner of America of the South: the peace process in Colombia and the political dialogue process in Venezuela”.

“I think we have to walk in two directions”, he argued: one that allows “to establish the timetable for the elections (of 2024) and their guarantees, so that the Venezuelan people can decide freely and sovereignly what ‘he wants, without pressure’. And another on the “lifting of sanctions” against Venezuela, a recurring demand from the Maduro government.

Neither the opposition nor the Venezuelan authorities have been invited to the summit, which is being held behind closed doors. This did not prevent a figure of the Venezuelan opposition, Juan Guaidó, officially banned from leaving Venezuela since 2019 and prosecuted by the justice of his country in particular for “treason”, from inviting himself on Monday “irregularly” on the Colombian territory, according to local authorities.

Saying he crossed the border “on foot” and arrived in Bogota after “60 hours on the road”, he finally left the country at night, via a commercial flight to Miami, claiming to have been “forced to leave” by the authorities Colombian.

“Mr. Guaidó was not expelled,” retorted President Petro. The opponent, considered by the United States as the de facto president of his country in early 2019, after the disputed re-election in May 2018 of President Nicolas Maduro, “had an agreement to go to the United States. We allowed him on humanitarian grounds despite his illegal entry into the country,” Petro explained.

By the end of 2022, the divided Venezuelan opposition had put an end to the “interim government” of Juan Guaidó.

Colombia was Mr. Guaidó’s main ally in the region when it was chaired by Mr. Petro’s predecessor, the conservative Ivan Duque. The two countries severed their relations in 2019.

Gustavo Petro, elected Colombia’s first left-wing president in the summer of 2022, has brought about a spectacular rapprochement with Caracas, restoring diplomatic relations and getting involved in the process of political negotiation. Since his inauguration, he has met four times with the Venezuelan president and reopened the border.

Last Thursday, Mr. Petro asked US President Joe Biden to gradually lift sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for guarantees for the 2024 presidential election.

Unlike previous negotiations, this time there are “new players, new strategies and new interests”, according to the local press, which cites a “three-band game”, between Petro’s political interest, the actors in the Venezuelan crisis and the interests of the international community, in particular Washington, around oil.

Maduro played down the scope of the summit, demanding that the United States release nearly $3.2 billion in Venezuelan assets to implement social programs negotiated in November between the government and the opposition.

“We are crossing our fingers that a formula emerges here so that Venezuelans can understand each other […] in order to achieve what the constitution calls for: elections in 2024,” Colombian Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva told reporters. .

EU Foreign Minister Borrell urged participants to “continue to explore ways to return to the path of democracy in Venezuela”.

A few steps from the summit, Venezuelan migrants dressed in black protested against Mr. Maduro under an “End of dictatorship” banner. Colombia is hosting around 2.4 million of the 6.8 million Venezuelans who have fled the crisis, according to the UN.