Pompeo arrives in Cucuta to meet with Colombia’s Duque re Venezuela crisis

Pompeo arrives in Cucuta to meet with Colombia's Duque re Venezuela crisis 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (center left) and Colombian President Ivan Duque (center right) visit the Simon Bolivar border bridge connecting Colombia with Venezuela in Cucuta, Colombia, on April 14, 2019. EFE-EPA/ Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda

Cucuta, Colombia, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on Sunday in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, where he will visit two border crossing points and meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque to discuss the crisis in neighboring Venezuela.

The aircraft bringing the top US diplomat to Colombia touched down a little before 4 pm at Camilo Daza International Airport, where he arrived from Peru on the next leg of a regional tour he began in Chile, after which he continued on to Paraguay and then Peru.

At the air terminal, Pompeo was welcomed by Colombia’s foreign minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo Garcia.

In the three countries Pompeo visited before arriving in Colombia, the main issue on his agenda was the Venezuelan crisis and the challenges of dealing with the situation both regionally and internationally.

In Cucuta, the main border crossing point between Colombia and Venezuela, Pompeo went to a shelter housing Venezuelan refugees where he met with Duque and his vice president, Marta Lucia Ramirez, as well as Humberto Calderon Berti, the ambassador to Colombia appointed by Venezuela’s interim president, Juan Guaido.

Pompeo and Duque chatted with some of the Venezuelans being housed at the shelter, including several children, who told them about the difficulties they had experienced living in their country.

Upon leaving the shelter, Pompeo signed a mural on which he wrote in English «Blessings to you all.»

Underneath that, Duque added the phrase «We’re united in solidarity and affection.»

Later Pompeo and Duque went to the Simon Bolivar border bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, where – amid a huge throng of reporters and surrounded by security guards toting bulletproof shields they strolled around on the Colombian side of the bridge and heard shouts of «Freedom! Freedom!» from a large crowd of Venezuelans who called to them for help.

Duque told reporters in English that Colombia had taken in 1.5 million Venezuelans over the past two years.

The US official and Duque also went to visit the warehouse facilities where humanitarian aid is being stockpiled on the Colombian side of the Tienditas border bridge, which is currently being blocked by Venezuelan troops so that this aid cannot be ferried into their country, this on the order of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Before the arrival of the secretary of state, Duque presented in Cucuta an «Impact Plan,» a package of measures to help Colombia’s provinces bordering on Venezuela deal with the effects of the crisis in the oil-producing neighboring country.

That package of measures is valued at approximately 712 billion pesos (about $229 million) and is targeted at the provinces of Norte de Santander, Arauca, Cesar, La Guajira, Vichada and Guainia.

This is Pompeo’s second visit to Colombia this year after he traveled to the city of Cartagena on Jan. 2, where he spoke with Duque about the Venezuelan crisis and the fight against drug trafficking.

Venezuela has been mired in a severe political, economic and social crisis for years, but it became more acute in January when Maduro was inaugurated to a second six-year term after winning an election the previous May that was held to be fraudulent by the Venezuelan opposition and a significant portion of the international community.

After Maduro’s inauguration, the head of the opposition-controlled Parliament, Juan Guaido, proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president and since then he has received recognition as the country’s legitimate leader by more than 50 nations around the world, including the United States and most of the nations of Latin America and Europe.

The US, Colombia and other nations began stockpiling humanitarian aid for Venezuela in Cucuta, Brazil and Curacao some months ago with an eye toward shipping it into Venezuela to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people, but Maduro has blocked those shipments, claiming that there is no crisis in Venezuela and that aid shipments could be the pretext for a US-led invasion.