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South Florida expats wrestling with 'mixed feelings' over renewed Colombia-Venezuela ties

 Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) signing a decree appointing Armando Benedetti (right) as Colombia's new ambassador to Venezuela.
Presidency of Colombia
Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) signing a decree appointing Armando Benedetti (right) as Colombia's new ambassador to Venezuela.

Colombia's president has re-established diplomatic relations with Venezuela's authoritarian regime. Expats are asking if it will help or hurt democratic change.

This week Colombia re-established diplomatic ties with Venezuela — a decision that has a big effect not just in Bogotá and Caracas, but in South Florida as well.

Colombia broke diplomatic relations with the authoritarian socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro three years ago, insisting Maduro's 2018 re-election was unconstitutional. Since then, like the U.S., it had recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

In that time, the neighboring nation has taken in more Venezuelan refugees fleeing their country's humanitarian crisis — the worst in modern South American history — than any other country.

But Colombia’s new president, Gustavo Petro — the country’s first leftist leader — has renewed ties with Maduro and is recognizing him. That decision has divided expats inside South Florida's Venezuelan and Colombian communities, the largest in the U.S.

“This is not good," said Luigi Boria, the former mayor of Doral, a major Venezuelan enclave.

"What is going to happen is, with the new alliance with Petro and Maduro, Maduro is going to get stronger in his power in Venezuela and weaken the opposition.”

But many expats, both Venezuelan and Colombian, both conservative and liberal, told WLRN they agree with Colombia’s move. They suggested that because the countries are neighbors, it may help ease the economic suffering in Venezuela. One benefit of restoring bilateral ties, they added, is that Colombia will re-open its border with Venezuela.

Others said they hope because Petro is a left-wing kindred spirit, he might be able to prod Maduro toward democratic reform in Venezuela, like a new and transparent presidential election.

“I have mixed feelings because on one hand, we are losing Colombian support for Guaidó," said Lesly Simon, who is on the board of the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce.

"But on the other hand, probably Petro has a close relationship with Maduro and can make him understand and make him change some political decisions. We’re going to see.”

Petro last week rejected the Maduro regime’s demand that he send some political dissidents living in Colombia back to Venezuela to face trial on treason and other charges.
Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.