BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday he looks forward to meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday in Bogota at a regional counter-terrorism conference.
“We hope he’ll be there … We hope he’ll join us and I look forward to having a meeting with him,” Pompeo told reporters on a flight from Berlin, where he had attended an international summit on security in Libya.
Guaido confirmed earlier on Sunday he had arrived in Colombia and would speak with Colombian President Ivan Duque, though he did not mention Pompeo, and a spokesperson for Guaido declined to comment on a meeting with Pompeo.
Guaido has not left Venezuela since February, when he defied a court-imposed travel ban and travelled to neighboring Colombia to organize a U.S.-backed effort to transport aid cargos back across the border, which was blocked by troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro.
In a message on Twitter, Guaido said he was grateful for Duque’s support and said the trip would “generate the conditions that will lead us to freedom.”
“I can assure you that my return to our country will be full of good news,” he added.
Duque, on Twitter, welcomed Guaido to Colombia, saying they would have a private meeting at his presidential residence on Sunday and Guaido would attend Monday’s conference. The meeting will address the use of drug-trafficking and illegal gold mining to fund “terrorist activities” in the Americas.
The United States, along with some 50 other nations, has recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head-of-state since last January when he invoked the constitution as head of congress and declared Maduro an usurper.
But a year on Maduro remains in power, despite a U.S. campaign to cut off his government’s sources of financing by imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s vital oil sector, and Guaido’s attempts to encourage the military to rebel.
Earlier this month, Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party seized control of the National Assembly and swore in an allied politician who defected from Guaido’s camp. Opposition lawmakers than voted in Guaido for a second term as congress chief in a separate session.
Pompeo at the time congratulated Guaido for his re-election and condemned “the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly.”
Maduro accuses Guaido of being a coup-mongering puppet controlled by the White House. In an interview published by the Washington Post on Saturday, Maduro said the Trump administration had underestimated his staying power and he “didn’t care” about sanctions.
Reporting by Corina Pons, Mayela Armas, and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Daniel Wallis