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Guaidó meets with allies pointing to Venezuela terror links

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó joined leaders from the United States and Latin America in condemning President Nicolás Maduro as a promoter of terrorism as he tried Monday to buoy international support for his flagging movement.

The man recognized by the U.S. and nearly 60 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader got a red-carpet welcome to Colombia and stood prominently beside world heavyweights including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who gathered for an international conference to discuss regional cooperation against terrorism.

“We are honored by your presence,” President Iván Duque told Guaidó during opening remarks. “You will always have a friend in Colombia.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the opening of a regional counter-terrorism meeting at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

The stately reception stood in stark relief to Guaidó’s recent tussles with national guardsmen blocking his entrance to the National Assembly in Venezuela as the country’s ongoing power struggle have grown more tense.

This week will mark one year since Guaidó stood before densely packed crowds of cheering Venezuelans and proclaimed himself the nation’s legitimate president, launching a bid to unseat Maduro that has thus far proven unsuccessful.

“There’s a big contrast over the international recognition and support Guaidó has in the diplomatic arena and how that translates into concrete actions back in Venezuela,” said Diego Moya Ocampos, a political risk analyst.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, right, talks to Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guadio at a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at the police academy, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2020. Colombian government blames rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

Guaidó was expected to use the Colombia meeting to highlight links between Maduro’s government and armed actors like Lebanese militia group Hezbollah and Colombian rebels as part of the opposition’s quest to increase international sanctions on the socialist government.

Pompeo kicked off the counter-terrorism conference at the General Santander Police Academy in Bogota – where 22 cadets were killed in a bombing last year – by decrying Maduro as an ally to terrorist groups including the National Liberation Army, the Colombian rebel group authorities say plotted the attack.

“These groups must lay down their arms and the Maduro regime must be held to account for its support of them,” Pompeo said.

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at a police academy in Bogota, Colombia, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Also in attendance were Colombia's President Ivan Duque and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

He praised Latin American nations for going after Hezbollah operatives; several nations including Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala and now Colombia plan to or have already declared Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.

Pompeo said Hezbollah has “found a home in Venezuela under Maduro. This is unacceptable.”

Moya Ocampos said he expected the gathering to raise awareness of the links between Venezuela and Hezbollah in generating illicit revenues and money laundering. But short of additional sanctions, it was unclear what other actions the coalition of nations might take.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque, front, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk after attending a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. The Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

Thus far, Maduro’s government has managed to stealthily evade punishing U.S. sanctions by accessing black markets and boosting cash revenue from alternative sources like gold.

“I think they’ve managed to successfully adapt to the existing sanctions,” Moya Ocampos said. “They’ve proven to be very resilient.”

Duque – whose nation has taken in at least 1.6 million Venezuelan migrants – has been an outspoken critic of Maduro and presented a 128-page report at the United Nations last year that he said provided detailed proof of links to terror groups.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo open a regional counter-terrorism meeting at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

But Duque came under fire when it was revealed that at least one of the images purporting to show rebel activity in Venezuela had actually been taken in Colombia.

Maduro has repeatedly denied harboring Colombian rebels, though citizens in the restive Venezuelan border region often report their presence.

Duque shot back at critics who have questioned Guaido’s strength Monday, characterizing his efforts as “brave” in facing off against Maduro.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque, center of red carpet, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, third person left of Duque, and Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, left on red carpet, walk after attending a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. The Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

“Maybe many speculate, ‘Why hasn’t Guaido put an end to the dictatorship?’” Duque said. “This can’t be a discussion about individual capabilities. We know your bravery and that confronting a dictatorship with no limits is a task that goes beyond heroism.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embrace during the inauguration of a regional counter-terrorism meeting at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

Relatives attend a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack to the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit attended by Colombian President Ivan Duque, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guadio. Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

Colombia's President Ivan Duque greets a relative during a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack on the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit attended by Duque, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido. Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)

Relatives embrace during a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack on the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit attended by Colombian President Ivan Duque, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido. Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP PhotoIvan Valencia)