EU countries on Monday doubled down on their decision to downgrade the status of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, drawing immediate criticism from the European Parliament.

Written conclusions adopted by EU foreign ministers named Guaidó, alongside other opposition representatives, as “privileged interlocutors” for “working towards a democratic future for Venezuela” — a demotion for Guaidó, who was recognized until last year in joint statements by EU countries as president of the country’s National Assembly.

Brussels already departed from that position in early January when EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell released a much-criticized statement in which he, on behalf of EU countries, called Guaidó a representative of Venezuela’s “outgoing National Assembly.” That move followed elections to the Venezuelan parliament in December, which were widely criticized as undemocratic and boycotted by Guaidó.

The European Parliament last week adopted a resolution urging EU countries to reestablish their support for Guaidó as the president of the last democratically elected parliament and, by extension, Venezuela’s interim president. Monday’s decision to not follow suit triggered sharp criticism by leading MEPs dealing with South American relations.

“I find it rather sad that, after having passed such a strong and specific resolution, the Council of EU foreign ministers is so weak in its manifestation of will,” said Spanish MEP Leopoldo López Gil from the European People’s Party.

“I regret a lot that despite such a serious situation” of human rights violations in Venezuela and millions of people fleeing the country, “we find ourselves again in a situation of ambiguity,” López Gil added.

Dita Charanzová, the Parliament’s vice president in charge of relations with Latin America, said she was “disappointed” by the Council conclusions. She added that “this policy of non-recognition only benefits” strongman Nicolás Maduro, who has ruled Venezuela since 2013 but whose reelection as president in 2018 was widely denounced as illegitimate.

Many countries, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile and a broad majority of EU states, declared in early 2019 that Guaidó — because of his widely recognized role as parliamentary president at that time — was the legitimate interim president in Venezuela until a new free and fair presidential election could take place.

Isadora Zubillaga, the deputy foreign minister of Guaidó’s interim government, criticized in a POLITICO op-ed on Sunday that the EU’s position “is shamefully ambiguous” and “sends the wrong message to Maduro and his backers.”

While no longer referring to Guaidó as parliamentary president or an elected representative at all, Monday’s statement by EU countries said that the bloc does not recognize Venezuela’s newly elected National Assembly either.

“The only way out of the crisis in Venezuela is to resume political negotiations promptly and to urgently establish a Venezuelan-led dialogue and transition process leading to credible, inclusive and transparent local, legislative and presidential elections,” the text says.

It adds that all political prisoners should be released immediately and warns that the EU “stands ready” to adopt new sanctions against those responsible for undermining democracy or violating human rights. The EU also vowed to coordinate its actions with the new U.S. administration and the Lima group, an alliance of countries across the Americas that seek to find a solution to the political crisis in Venezuela.

Source: Politico