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US Officials Will Travel to Bogotá Amid Rising Venezuela Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- Top Biden administration officials are set to hold high-level meetings with counterparts from Colombia in Bogotá next week amid increasing tensions with neighboring Venezuela.

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US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer and the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere Juan González will travel to Colombia’s capital and hold meetings alongside Chief of Mission of the Venezuelan Affairs Unit Francisco Palmieri, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named because the discussions are confidential.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a key ally to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro since taking office in 2022, is expected to be at the meeting, two people with knowledge of the plans said.

The meetings will take place a week after the Biden administration restored sanctions on Venezuela’s gold sector and said it would allow a six-month suspension on sanctions on the oil and gas sector to expire in April if opposition candidates remained barred from running in this year’s presidential elections.

The Biden administration had issued a license in October authorizing energy sector transactions as a gesture of goodwill after Maduro’s government entered talks with some members of the opposition.

In response, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said Venezuela would stop accepting deportees from the US if the Biden administration followed through on its threats.

The Biden officials will also travel to the Caribbean, one of the people said.

Earlier: Venezuela to Stop Taking US Deportees If Sanctions Renewed

The officials will discuss María Corina Machado, the Venezuelan opposition frontrunner who was banned by Maduro from participating in this year’s presidential elections, as well as migration issues and Petro’s plan for “Total Peace,” two of the people said.

The last time Machado met a US president was in May 2005, when then President George W. Bush welcomed her to the Oval Office as founder and executive director of Sumate, an independent democratic civil society group in Venezuela.

Maduro Ally

Petro has helped reestablish diplomatic ties between his country and Venezuela and made efforts to mediate the political crisis there. In April 2022, he hosted a summit of international leaders on Venezuela, which included senior US officials González and Finer.

While several regional leaders expressed their concern after Venezuela’s top court ratified its ban on Machado, Petro has not spoken out about the matter. In June, he tweeted that no authority “should take away political rights from any citizen,” in reference to Machado. Petro, who was once also banned from holding public office in Colombia, had his political rights reinstated in 2017.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said “high-level dialogue with Maduro representatives” will continue as the US seeks to “honor our commitments to support democratic governance and free, fair, competitive, and inclusive elections in Venezuela through the implementation of the Barbados electoral roadmap agreement.”

A press representative for Petro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

--With assistance from Eric Martin and Oscar Medina.

(Updates with additional details on officials’ travel, Petro plans)

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