European nations set to recognise Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's leader

President Nicolás Maduro is refusing to hold election despite pressure from overseas

The UK, France, Germany and other European countries are expected to recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela on Monday if the current president, Nicolás Maduro, has not set a date for fresh elections by then.

However, in a combative interview broadcast on Sunday night, Maduro said: “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.”

EU leaders, including the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, started expressing their support for Guaidó before the midnight deadline on Sunday night.

Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan is due to fly to Ottawa to meet European and Latin American leaders in a new international contact group to discuss the most effective ways of supporting Guaidó.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said: “This crisis poses huge security, humanitarian and economic challenges for the entire hemisphere.”

France’s Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, foreshadowing the stance of most European leaders, said: “If by tonight Maduro does not commit to organising presidential elections, then France will consider Juan Guaidó as legitimate to organise them in his place and we will consider him as the interim president until legitimate elections in Venezuela [take place].”

She dismissed Maduro’s proposal of an early parliamentary election, calling it a farce, and said “the ultimatum ends tonight”.

France, Germany, Spain and the UK have been closely coordinating their support for Guaidó, assessing the best form of sanctions to press Maduro into holding the elections. None supports the kind of military intervention repeatedly suggested by the US president, Donald Trump. They regard Trump’s claim that a military option is on the table as counter-productive since it conjures up memories of past US destabilisation in Latin America.

Maduro also addressed the US stance in his interview with Spanish television channel Antena 3. He promised to leave the White House “stained with blood” if Trump insisted on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. Addressing Trump, he asked: “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?”

The EU was unable to come to a collective stance on Venezuela last week when the Five Star wing of the Italian coalition government objected to recognition of Guaidó.

There are divisions on the issue not just within the Italian coalition, but also within the Five Star Movement (M5S). Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s deputy prime minister and the leader of M5S, defended his refusal to recognise Guaidó as interim president saying he “had not been elected by the people”.

So far the US and about 20 other countries have recognised, or are on the brink of recognising, Guaidó. But Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba have defended Maduro, rejecting outside interference as orchestrated by Trump. Canada and the Lima Group of Latin American countries, which are aiming to find a solution to the Venezuela crisis, recognised Guaidó on 23 January.

Much of the Ottawa meeting will be taken up with the humanitarian consequences of the crisis. Freeland’s diplomatic service has played a backroom role in helping organise the opposition to coalesce around Guaidó. She said: “The Maduro regime is now fully entrenched as a dictatorship.”

On Sunday Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, spoke to the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, to coordinate the call for elections. He has said the aim of the Ottawa meeting is to push for peace, democracy and stability.

One proposal is to seize “corruptly obtained” overseas assets belonging to members of the Maduro regime and use the cash to ease the humanitarian crisis as Venezuelan refugees flee abroad, such as tocountries such as Colombia.

The Labour party in the UK has not recognised Guaidó, despite his being a member of Socialist International, though it has stepped up its criticism of Maduro, once a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn.

The shadow attorney general, Lady Chakrabarti, speaking on Sunday to Sky News, said: “Last year’s reporting on Venezuela is pretty damning and that’s in terms of disappearances, that’s in terms of crushing dissent, that’s in terms of reports of torture, of prisoners and political prisoners, and it is completely unacceptable.

“I think it is incumbent on people like me, as a member of the left, to call out governments and states of the left because human rights have to be applied with an even hand.”


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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