EU countries recognise Juan Guaidó as interim Venezuelan leader

Coordinated move comes after deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections expires

European countries including the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark have recognised Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela in a coordinated move made after a deadline for Nicolás Maduro to call presidential elections expired.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said: “The people of Venezuela have suffered enough. It is time for a new start, with free and fair elections in accordance with international democratic standards.

“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.”

He added that the room for dialogue remained open.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, told reporters at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid: “Given that we’ve got to today and Maduro’s regime hasn’t taken any steps whatsoever towards [calling elections], the government of Spain announces that it officially recognises Mr Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan assembly, as Venezuela’s caretaker president.”

Maduro has said he is considering revising relations with countries that have de-recognised him.

Seven EU states had given Maduro until Sunday to call elections, failing which they would recognise the 35-year-old Guaidó as the country’s interim leader.

Sánchez said Spain was committed to defending the rights of the Venezuelan people, adding there were deep ties that bound his country to Latin America. “From today, we will carry on dedicating all our efforts to the task of helping to bring freedom, prosperity and harmony to all Venezuelans.”

The prime minister said the decision to recognise Guaidó was intended to bring about free and democratic elections as soon as possible – “elections that will allow the Venezuelan people to use their voice and their vote to decide their own future without fear, threats or pressure”.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told France Inter radio station Guaidó had “the capacity and the legitimacy” to organise a presidential election.

Hungary’s public diplomacy minister, Zoltan Kovacs, said on Monday his government supported the position of the Spanish People’s party, and no longer recognised Maduro as president.

A fresh effort to gain unanimous support for a statement recognising Guaidó as interim leader failed partly due to Italian and Greek objections. As many as 10 EU countries did not immediately recognise Guaidó. Most of the waverers have issued statements of support for Guaidó and may need more time to complete domestic consultations.

Guaidó appealed to Italy to change its mind and join its European allies in recognising his government. “If European governments want to help stop all this, they must move en bloc so that the forces that still support Maduro feel the full weight of diplomatic and political pressure,” he said. “Europe is very important for us and for the return of democracy in Venezuela.”

Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, has accused Europe’s ruling elite of sycophantically following Donald Trump’s agenda. The US, Canada and several Latin American countries have disavowed Maduro over his disputed re-election last year, and backed Guaidó.

Maduro maintains the backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the support of the Venezuelan military elite.

Russia, a major creditor to Venezuela in recent years, has urged restraint. In a statement on Monday, the Kremlin said European moves to legitimise Guaidó’s “illegal attempt” to seize power amounted to foreign meddling.

The UK Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan was 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.

Opening the joint meeting in Ottawa of the Lima Group and European supporters, Justin Trudeau said Canada was providing $53m (£40.5m) to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis on Venezuela’s borders.

Insisting this was an important chapter in the 18-month struggle to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people, he said “the moment for democratic transition in the country is now”, adding the international community must unite behind the transitional government. He said, “We are observing a widespread rejection of Maduro’s illegitimate claim for power and his willingness to use force, fear and coercion to retain power”, adding violation of human rights was “inexcusable and unacceptable”.

Guaidó, beaming in a message by video, claimed “we are very close to reacting freedom as a result of the international support we have received”.

As pressure mounts, Maduro has warned the US president he would leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insisted on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him.

“Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro said during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole broadcast on Sunday. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?”

He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “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.”

He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”


Sam Jones in Madrid and Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

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