MIAMI -- Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó has traveled to Colombia to participate alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a regional counter-terrorism meeting — a new show of support by the Trump administration for the man it says is the country's legitimate leader.
From Bogota, Guaidó plans to travel to Europe and then possibly the U.S., two people close to the opposition leader said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his travel plans.
While Guaidó's itinerary in Europe is unknown, he'll be traveling there as President Donald J. Trump is scheduled to attend Jan. 21-22 the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That could set the stage for a first meeting between Guaidó and Trump on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the world's business and political elite.
Colombian President Iván Duque welcomed Guaidó in a tweet on Sunday and said he would hold a "working meeting" with him later.
Pompeo, meanwhile, told reporters en route back from a meeting in Berlin that he hoped Guaidó would be at the summit, calling him “the duly elected leader of Venezuela.”
It wasn't clear how Guaidó left Venezuela. But it's only the second time that he has defied a travel ban imposed by Venezuela's pro-government supreme court and secretly moved across the border.
In his role as president of the National Assembly, Guaidó is recognized as Venezuela's rightful leader by the U.S. and more than 50 nations that consider Nicolás Maduro's reelection invalid.
Any trip abroad entails huge risks.
Last February, after a 10-day tour of Latin American capitals that included a meeting in Bogota with Vice President Mike Pence, he risked arrest and returned home on a commercial flight with several foreign diplomats waiting for him at the Caracas international airport.
Since then, he has struggled to maintain the momentum of his campaign to oust socialist leader Nicolás Maduro. Street protests have mostly fizzled and his call for a military uprising in April failed to break Maduro's hold on the armed forces. Meanwhile, Maduro has found ways to circumvent U.S. oil sanctions, limiting their impact by dollarizing wide swaths of the economy and quietly lifting longstanding currency and customs controls.
“I think everyone understood the challenge, the challenge of restoring democracy to Venezuela was going to be difficult,” Pompeo said Sunday.
But he said “real progress” had been made toward removing Maduro. He said the U.S. is working to convince Cuba not to continue supporting Maduro.
“And if those around him from a security perspective will ultimately make the conclusion that Venezuela’s better off with Maduro having departed, then I think we can get our objective,” he added.
Guaidó's visit to Colombia comes days after government loyalists attempted to engineer a takeover of the National Assembly.
In an interview Friday with the Washington Post, Maduro offered to negotiate directly with the Trump administration in a bid to end the country's political stalemate and address a humanitarian crisis that has led millions of Venezuelans to migrate.
“The gap between Guaidó’s legitimacy and international support and his lack of real power on the ground is growing larger,”said Geoff Ramsey of the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. “The international community can play an important role, but ultimately any transition will have to be led by Venezuelans themselves.”
The meeting Monday in Colombia's capital of Bogota is to include Pompeo and foreign ministers from several Latin American nations to discuss ways of cutting off funding and activities of regional and global groups designated as terrorist organizations, like Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
There's also pressure by conservatives to add Cuba and the Maduro government to the list of state sponsors of terror for their alleged support for leftist Colombian guerrilla groups.
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