Colombia rejects Venezuelan proposal to resume diplomatic relations

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia rejected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal that the two countries resume diplomatic relations on Thursday, amid a dispute over a fugitive former Colombian congresswoman who was captured in Venezuela.

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President Ivan Duque speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cartagena, Colombia January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Javier Andres Rojas/File Photo

Maduro abruptly cut diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia last February after Colombian President Ivan Duque helped Venezuelan opposition politicians deliver humanitarian aid to their crisis-stricken country.

Colombia, like the majority of Western democracies, recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president.

“We see little possibility of providing consular and other services in Venezuela, plainly and simply because of the constant aggressions doled out by the dictatorship against many countries that have rejected it,” Duque told journalists Thursday.

Maduro proposed the resumption of consular relations between the countries on Wednesday, as Colombia seeks the extradition of former Colombian congresswoman Aida Merlano. Merlano was detained this week in Venezuela’s Zulia state, which borders Colombia, four months after she escaped from custody.

The former lawmaker, imprisoned in Colombia for buying votes in 2018, made a dramatic escape by lowering herself by rope from a second-floor orthodontist’s office last October. She fled on the back of a motorbike.

Maduro and officials in his government have said Merlano had told them stories of corruption among Colombia’s political class, hinting they could reveal them. Merlano was charged by a Venezuelan court with identity theft, using fake documents and conspiring to commit crimes.

“Duque doesn’t want the truth to come out... he is going to get a surprise in the next few days,” Maduro said on state television on Thursday.

Colombia asked Guaido to secure Merlano’s extradition this week. The opposition leader committed to doing so, but he has no control over Venezuela’s police or judiciary.

“They shouldn’t mock the laws and institutions that would see Aida Merlano deported, so that she can face the full weight of Colombian law,” Duque said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in Caracas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Heather Timmons