Colombian Congresswoman Arrest in Venezuela Tests Guaidó’s Power
President Iván Duque has requested interim president Juan Guaidó to extradite former congresswoman Merlano.
The arrest of Colombian ex-congresswoman Aida Merlano in Venezuelan territory by Nicolás Maduro’s regime puts a strain on President Juan Guaidó’s room for maneuver.
In October 2019, Merlano escaped from a Colombian prison where she was serving a 15-year sentence for electoral fraud. She was arrested in Maracaibo, according to information provided by the Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice and reported by the authorities of the Chavista tyranny.
The minister also recalled that the Colombian government does not have diplomatic relations with the Maduro regime, but it does have ties with the Government of Guaidó. So the request for extradition will be made to the interim president. In response to these declarations by the Duque Government, the Venezuelan dictator responded on television saying “there are legitimate authorities” in Venezuela and told the Colombian President, “send your letter, Duque, to Guaidó, commit another stupid act, and see whom Guaidó sends you.
Merlano’s arrest is proof of Maduro’s current influence in the territories and of the loyalty of the forces of law and order to the socialist tyranny the Special Action Forces (FAS), the most violent and lethal force of the regime, were the ones responsible for this arrest. Merlano’s arrest seems to be an attempt by the dictatorship to reveal Guaidó’s strength in Venezuela.
In a statement issued by Venezuela’s interim presidency, Guaidó said that “Venezuelan officials are obliged to officially notify the Government of the Republic of Colombia about the arrest of Colombian former Congresswoman Aida Merlano. The legitimate Government of Venezuela will collaborate as much as possible, in the current context of institutional kidnapping in our country, to provide our ally, the Colombian Government, the legal and institutional framework necessary to facilitate the return of the former congresswoman to her country.”
In his statement, President Guaidó also asked “Interpol to contribute and cooperate as much as possible for the effective implementation of the measures requested by the Government of the Republic of Colombia.”
What should Colombia do?
PanAm Post spoke with criminal lawyer Diego Suárez about the path that the Government of Iván Duque should take when requesting the extradition of Merlano from interim president Guaidó. In his opinion, the first thing is to wait for the official notification of the arrest, because until Colombia is officially notified, the corresponding procedure cannot be carried out:
There is a natural uncertainty about what will happen, given the rupture of diplomatic relations with Venezuela. However, the red notice, which is a request made between countries to retain a person was issued. So there would be no excuse for not handing over the arrested person to the Colombian authorities. The international request or red notice is not binding on countries; that is, they are not obliged to detain the requested person. But if they choose to do so, they cannot keep him in detention, but instead, hand him/her over.
Suárez added that “if the arrested person is indeed Aida Merlano, but she is not handed over to the Colombian authorities, we would clearly be facing an illegitimate deprivation of liberty since there is no merit in the Venezuelan justice system to prolong her deprivation of liberty without handing her over to the Colombian State.”
Why did Merlano escape?
Former Congresswoman Aida Merlano’s escape from Colombian authorities resembled a movie scene. She was at a dental appointment in northern Bogotá when she changed her clothes in the office, jumped out of the window onto the street holding on to a rope, and was picked up outside by a man on a motorcycle and fled, as we know now, to Venezuela.
After her escape, the Colombian authorities announced a reward of up to 200 million pesos (approximately 60,000 USD) for information leading to Merlano’s arrest.
The former senator was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in buying votes for the elections to be held in March 2018. Her prison sentence stated that Merlano coordinated with others involved in the corruption network to obtain votes that would give her a seat in the House of Representatives.
According to the authorities, the former congresswoman led an electoral fraud network through a sophisticated operation, buying each vote at 50,000 pesos (approximately 15 USD) in popular neighborhoods in the capital and the municipalities of Atlántico, in the north of Colombia.
Additionally, several cell phones and a computer were seized in the Merlano arrest, which could reveal how the crime was forged and who provided the money for the purchase of votes since so far, there are no arrests of those who financed the corruption scheme.