The Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, appeared unexpectedly on Friday, March 17, in Washington to, he said, hold a high-level agenda with officials from the State Department, the White House, Congress and others.
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Through his social networks and in a meeting with the media, attended by EL TIEMPO, the diplomat insisted that the purpose of his visit was “informative” and to explain to these US actors why Colombia was restoring relations with Venezuela. .
¨Yesterday (Friday, March 17) I arrived in Washington, I visited the Colombian Embassy there and we worked on the agenda for next Monday and Tuesday: we will talk about Colombia, relations with Venezuela and Venezuela with the State Department, Congress, former ambassadors from the US in Colombia, Institute of Peace and WOLA¨, trilled Benedetti in the first instance.
On Tuesday, and using this same network, the ambassador maintained that he ended “the day with meetings that were held confidentially in which members of the Capitol and the White House participated. We talk about Venezuela, and the relations between Colombia and Venezuela with the sole purpose of informing and describing”.
Yesterday I arrived in Washington, visited the Colombian Embassy there and we worked on the agenda for next Monday and Tuesday: we will talk about Colombia, relations with Venezuela and Venezuela with the State Department, Congress, former US ambassadors in Colombia , Institute of Peace and WOLA. pic.twitter.com/VTAnQ1BRyF
— Armando Benedetti (@AABenedetti) March 18, 2023
In his meeting with the press, the ambassador reiterated that he had meetings both “with the State Department and with Congress,” but refrained from specifying the names of his counterparts, which he said he did not know at the time.
Although the ambassador did have some meetings during his five days in the US capital, with NGOs and former US ambassadors in Bogotá, both in the State Department and in the White House and in Congress they denied meetings with Benedetti.
EL TIEMPO spoke with the departments of the administration of Joe Biden and in all of them they said that those appointments of which the ambassador speaks had not taken place. This newspaper, through his correspondent in Caracas, asked Benedetti to confirm the names of the officials of White House, State Department and members of Congress with whom he said he met. “I don’t have names”, was the answer.
Subsequently, this newspaper communicated with sources from the embassy in Venezuela who responded: ¨The agenda that the ambassador maintained in Washington was as it was made public on his networks, through Twitter. Benedetti went to the United States to take a specific message to the authorities there.
¨The agenda that the ambassador held in Washington was just like the one that was made public on his networks. Benedetti went to the US to bring a specific message to the authorities there¨
Furthermore, according to sources in that legation, “the meeting with President Petro, Maduro and Benedetti in Caracas (last Thursday) was at the express request of the United States. A fact that would have been corroborated by the Colombian head of state himself who, from the Dominican (Republic) (during the Ibero-American Summit) recounted that he spoke with Maduro and is in a process that will be public at the appropriate time. “This process has to do with ‘ to unblock the negotiations between the Caracas government and the opposition and “a possible meeting in Bogotá.”
TIEMPO consulted with a high-ranking White House source about the alleged express order from the US, and this was his response: “President Petro does not receive instructions from us, but we regularly discuss the issue of Venezuela with Colombia.”
From the start, Benedetti’s trip sounded unusual to say the least. To begin with, it is the first time in at least 25 years that a Colombian ambassador to another country has appeared in Washington to give explanations on any issue.
Among others, because that function corresponds to the ambassador to the White House, the only one authorized to have an official relationship with the US bureaucracy, and to the personnel of that diplomatic legation. Or, failing that, the Chancellor, as head of the Foreign Relations portfolio. Unless, of course, the exchange takes place under the umbrella of international organizations such as the UN or OAS.
That is why there was speculation if Benedetti was traveling to Washington with a sensitive and secret agenda that included issues such as Monomeros or Alex Saab.. Or, as the sources at the embassy in Caracas now say, to facilitate rapprochement with the Venezuelan opposition.
Thanks to the former ambassadors of the United States in Colombia for receiving me. I informed them of the current state of relations between Colombia and Venezuela, and why it was essential to restore them. pic.twitter.com/07XEWxgwnR
— Armando Benedetti (@AABenedetti) March 20, 2023
However, in statements to the press, Benedetti was emphatic that he was not “bringing messages from anyone to Washington” and that the objective was only informative and about the state of Colombian-Venezuelan relations.
EL TIEMPO made a request for information to the Colombian Embassy in Washington asking to confirm if there were in fact meetings with members of Congress, the White House and/or the State Department.
The embassy responded that it had been Benedetti who “expressed interest in having a round of informative sessions on the normalization of relations between Colombia and Venezuela – from the perspective of the embassy under his charge” – and that it was a “matter of US interest.”
Regarding appointments, the embassy does not specifically mention meetings: ¨In the framework of the Ambassador’s visit to the United States in Caracas, this embassy facilitated a series of informative sessions, many of them documented on social networks, with, among other ex-ambassadors. of the US in Colombia and think tanks such as USIP and WOLA¨.
USIP is an independent body that operates with funds authorized by Congress, but is not part of the US bureaucracy. In the case of the appointment with USIP, this newspaper was able to establish that some of its members did not agree with giving Benedetti an audience and preferred not to attend.
As for Wola, which is a human rights NGO, Benedetti met at the embassy with Carolina Jiménez, its president.
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
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