By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Colombian President Ivan Duque on Wednesday slammed remarks by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro over Bogota’s request for the extradition of fugitive lawmaker Aida Merlano.
On Tuesday, Maduro spoke for the first time about the issue since Venezuelan authorities arrested the former Colombian senator in Maracaibo, Venezuela last October. Merlano had been serving a prison sentence in Colombia for vote buying when she escaped, slipping past her guards and illegally crossing into Venezuela.
Maduro said he was amused by the fact that Duque had asked Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido for Merlano’s extradition.
“I laughed hard today. I am going to try to say this without laughing, because Ivan Duque’s government said it was going to ask Juan Guaido for this person’s extradition,” Maduro said in a meeting with the leadership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
“It is truly ridiculous,” he insisted.
Duque countered that Colombia is part of a group of more than 50 countries that have recognized Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
"We must remember that it was Nicolas Maduro who broke diplomatic and political relations with Colombia in February last year and ordered the expulsion of Colombian diplomats, including consular personnel," said Duque, who was visiting the border region of Catatumbo.
He said there are countries that recognize Guaido and also ensure a consular presence in Venezuela in order to offer certain services and maintain relationships among institutions for specific issues like this one.
Duque said Maduro was trying to avoid the real issue.
“Aida Merlano is a criminal, and she has a history of corruption, of which the country [Venezuela] is very much aware of."
Merlano has been on the run since Oct. 1, when she jumped with a rope from the second floor of a building where she seeing the dentist and disappeared on a motorcycle driven by a man who was waiting for her. She was serving a 15-year prison sentence in Colombia for electoral fraud and corruption.
Although Colombia’s government confirmed it will handle extradition proceedings with Guaido, there is no easy path ahead.
According to international relations experts, Guaido has no power over the police, the judges, or authorities of any kind in Venezuela with which to comply with the requirement formulated by the Colombian government.