Colombia seeks extradition of senator arrested in Venezuela
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian officials are seeking the extradition of a former senator who was arrested in Venezuela after escaping from prison four months ago.
But the prospects of returning Aida Merlano to her jail cell in Colombia any time soon are slim, since Colombia doesn’t recognize President Nicolás Maduro, who controls Venezuela’s government.
Colombia’s Ministry of Justice said Tuesday that it would process Merlano’s extradition request with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as that nation’s interim president by more than 50 countries, including Colombia and the United States, but who has no practical authority.
Maduro ridiculed Colombia’s dilemma, calling it a ridiculous position that he blamed on Colombian President Ivan Duque’s “extremist policy” toward Venezuela’s government.
“Today I laughed a lot because the government of Ivan Duque said it was going to ask for extraditing this person who has been captured by the legitimate authorities of Venezuela, was going to ask Juan Guaidó,” Maduro said in a television appearance.
He added hat Colombia’s policy has been a step back for “security and cooperation between both countries.”
“We have more than 30 fugitives captured, and have no one to hand them over to in Colombia, due to Duque’s stubbornness and ideological extremism,” Maduro said.
Duque’s administration, however, has accused Venezuela of giving safe haven to Colombian rebels who have been convicted of multiple crimes.
In an earlier radio interview Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum defended the yearlong effort to isolate Maduro despite such practical problems.
“We understand there are diplomatic complications with regard to this case as we don’t have relations with the illegitimate government of Venezuela,” Blum told Blu Radio. “But this case will not deter us from our efforts to restore that country’s democracy.”
Merlano escaped from custody in October during a visit to a dentist. While prison guards waited outside her dentist’s office, she climbed out of the third floor window, slid down a rope and hopped on a motorcycle that sped her away into the city’s streets. The cinematic escape was recorded by security cameras and led to the resignation of Colombia’s prisons director.
Merlano had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for overseeing a vote-buying operation and is believed to have information that links powerful politicians to corruption scandals.