U.S President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcomed Colombia’s Iván Duque and First Lady María Juliana Ruíz to the White House on Wednesday, as the 42-year old Colombian leader begins an official visit to Washington.
The much-anticipated meeting between Trump and Duque comes at a critical time as Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro has blocked humanitarian aid from entering his country from Colombia destined for tens of thousands of malnutritioned children. As tensions escalate between the regime of Maduro and U.S government, Duque, after only six months in office, has shown to be a staunch ally of Venezuela’s interim President Juan Guaidó, and one of the first world leaders to recognize his mandate.
While the agenda surrounding previous state visits by Colombian Presidents to Washington has been narcotized, this visit consolidates a strategic partnership between Washington and Bogotá to restore democracy in Venezuela without ruling out a “military option” as Trump has remarked in the past.
And he reiterated his stance again during the press briefing in the Oval Office accompanied by Duque. “I think there are a number of different options. We are in an incredible period with Venezuela.”
On Wednesday, as Trump and Duque discussed the options to end the dictatorship in Venezuela and stem a migration crisis that has resulted in some 3 million migrants fleeing economic turmoil and political repression, Maduro lashed out at Guaidó with direct threats that “sooner or later” he would face the courts for violating the Bolivarian Constitution after he appointed himself interim president. The threats come a day after huge anti-government protests in Caracas, which Trump referred to, stating: “A lot of things are happening in Venezuela that people don’t know about. I’ve seen what’s happening on the streets […] the executions.”
When asked by a journalist if he was planning on sending troops to Colombia, Trump responded: “I never talk about that.”
Before meeting with Trump at the White House, Duque hosted a breakfast for the newly-appointed Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington, Carlos Vecchio at Blair House, the official residence for state visits. “Venezuela is living, today, the worst humanitarian crisis in the recent history of Latin America,” remarked Duque, calling to the international community to “advance with the diplomatic siege of the dictatorship, so that the Venezuelan people can return to freedom and dream of a new tomorrow.”
One clue as to a timeline that includes “all options” was made by Duque in the Oval Office when he stated that after the Lima Group meets in Bogotá next week, “Guaidó will have even more support from the leaders of the region to lead the transition [to democracy].”
Guaidó has set Feb. 23 as the date in which the humanitarian aid, warehoused along the Venezuela-Colombia border in Cucutá, would enter the country defying Maduro’s blockade. “We are committed to receiving all U.S humanitarian aid, as well as that from other countries, so it reaches Venezuela,” stated Duque from the White House.
Both leaders praised Guaidó for his bravery confronting the regime. “I give him a lot of credit. I think it’s going to work out very well,” said Trump, before hosting a private lunch for Colombia’s President and First Lady.