Opposition Leader Says He Left Venezuela After Being Threatened

Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, said late Monday that he had been forced out of Colombia, hours after crossing the border into the country after receiving threats from the Venezuelan government. Colombia’s president disputed the assertion that Mr. Guaidó had been forcibly removed.

Speaking in a video posted on Twitter, Mr. Guaidó said he had entered Colombia with plans to meet with political representatives who had gathered to discuss the future of Venezuela. But rather than welcome him, he said, the Colombians kicked him out.

“The persecution of the dictatorship has extended, unfortunately, to Colombia today,” he said, speaking from what appeared to be an airplane. He said he was on his way to the United States.

Late Monday, Colombia’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Mr. Guaidó had been in Bogotá “irregularly,” and that migration officials had taken him to the airport “with the intention of verifying his departure on a commercial airline to the United States.”

But President Gustavo Petro of Colombia denied on Twitter that Mr. Guaidó had been ejected from the country by force. “Mr. Guaidó was not expelled, it is better that the lie does not appear in politics,” Mr. Petro said. “Mr. Guaidó had an agreement to travel to the U.S. We allowed this for humanitarian reasons despite the illegal entry to the country.”

In another tweet, Mr. Petro said that he would have granted the Venezuelan opposition leader asylum if he had asked for it. “He simply enters with his passport and asks for asylum,” Mr. Petro said. “He would have been gladly offered it. He has no reason to enter the country illegally.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Petro would be able to grant such asylum without facing consequences from President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, whom he relies on to help negotiate with a major rebel group, the National Liberation Army, which remains a violent force in Colombia and has made inroads in Venezuela.

A representative from Mr. Petro’s government did not respond to a request for more information.

In 2019, Mr. Guaidó rose from little-known Venezuelan lawmaker to national hero after declaring Mr. Maduro an illegitimate ruler and himself the interim head of state. At the time, he posed the most significant threat to a deeply undemocratic and unpopular president, who had helped plunge Venezuela into an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Dozens of nations recognized Mr. Guaidó as the nation’s new leader, most prominently the United States. But Mr. Guaidó ultimately failed to oust Mr. Maduro, and late last year, his own colleagues in the opposition voted to dissolve his interim government and remove his title as interim president. Their assessment was that the parallel-government strategy would not be able to create political change, and that a new path was needed.

Mr. Maduro has jailed hundreds of political opponents over the years, and many have already fled for other countries, including Colombia. But Mr. Guaidó remained in Caracas with his family, under the assumption that arresting such a prominent leader would make Mr. Maduro even less popular at home and abroad.

Venezuela and Colombia share a long border and many cultural and economic ties, but their relationship became particularly strained under the previous Colombian government, led by President Iván Duque, a conservative.

Mr. Petro, Colombia’s new, leftist president, has restored the countries’ diplomatic relations, which were cut off in 2019, and has had multiple meetings with Mr. Maduro. Mr. Petro has tried to position himself as a broker between the Maduro government; the large, often fractured Venezuelan opposition, of which Mr. Guaidó is just one player; and the rest of the world.

He met last week in Washington with President Biden, and the two leaders issued a joint statement condemning “all forms of authoritarianism and aggression in the world” and expressing interest in a “solution to the situation in Venezuela.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Petro is scheduled to host a meeting with representatives of approximately 20 nations to discuss Venezuela’s future. Two officials from the National Security Council in Washington, Jon Finer and Juan Gonzalez, are expected to attend, along with former Senator Chris Dodd.

On Monday, Colombia’s foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, issued a notice clarifying that Mr. Guaidó had not been not invited to the meeting.

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