Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

EU nations back Guaido as Venezuela leader

UK, Spain, France and a number of EU countries back Juan Guaido as Italy remains divided

President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaido sees himself as the de factor leader of the oil-rich country. EPA
President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaido sees himself as the de factor leader of the oil-rich country. EPA

The UK and a number of European countries have recognised Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's caretaker president, stepping up the pressure on incumbent Nicolas Maduro.

In a tweet sent on Monday morning, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Britain viewed the incumbent as “interim” leader until credible elections can be held.

“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end. Those who continue to violate the human rights of ordinary Venezuelans under an illegitimate regime will be called to account. The Venezuelan people deserve a better future,” Mr Hunt added in an official statement following his tweet.

Mr Hunt called Mr Guaido over the phone on Wednesday to offer his support, telling him that he was “a courageous and brave man”.

According to a Foreign Office spokesperson, “Mr Guaido told the Foreign Secretary he appreciated the support from the UK and said it was an important moment for Venezuela and the people of his country who have suffered for many years under the Maduro regime.”

Mr Guaido told Britain’s foreign minister that he feared “judicial persecution” in Venezuela while his family faces death threats from opposition supporters.

“The Foreign Secretary and Mr Guaido also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Mr Guaido said that there is immense suffering, food shortages and that several people had recently died due to the lack of electricity in hospitals”, the Foreign Office said.

France and Spain also backed Venezuela’s opposition leader on Monday.

"Guaido has the capacity and the legitimacy to organise an election," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio station.

Spain urged Mr Guaido to call a snap election.

In a tweet, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote: “I recognise @jguaido as interim president of Venezuela with a clear horizon: calling free, democratic presidential elections with guarantees and no exclusions. I will not take a step back. For freedom, democracy and concord in Venezuela”.

Spain, Germany, France and Britain had given official leader Nicolás Maduro until Monday to call a round of new elections.

Sweden and Austria also joined calls for Mr Guaido to lead fresh election in inflation-hit Venezuela on Monday.

EU member states aren’t completely united over backing the incumbent.

Italy’s coalition government is fraught over differences of opinion, while Italy’s Five Star Movement is wracked with internal divisions on who to back.

Italy’s deputy prime minister and the leader of the Five Star Movement Luigi Di Maio refuses to recognise Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s leader because “he had not been elected by the people”.

Foreign ministers from the EU’s 28 member states had discussed issuing a joint statement on Sunday. Italy’s objection led EU foreign ministers and leaders to announce statements separately on Monday.

EU nations, with the exception of Italy, are now in line with US recognising Venezuela’s opposition as leader.

Russia, China, India and Iran have backed Mr Maduro as Venezuela’s de facto leader.

The raft of announces from European countries comes on the back of Mr Maduro’s refusal.

In an interview on national television, Mr Maduro hit back at European pressure for him to stand down.

“We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.”

Mr Maduro warned US President Donald Trump of risking a repeat of the Vietnam War if the US went ahead with military intervention.

“Let's respect each other, or is it that you are going to repeat a Vietnam in Latin America?"

Thousands marched in protest in the Venezuelan capital Caracas in support of both political leaders.

Mr Maduro has the support of Venezuela’s military, although Mr Guaido says he has held private meetings with senior members of the army in a bid to bolster support.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been plunged into constitutional crisis since Mr Maduro broke away from Venezuela’s National Assembly to create his own chamber filled with supporters. Mr Guaido claims he is the legitimate seat of power as president of Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Updated: February 4, 2019 03:17 PM