The EU countries no longer consider Juan Guaido, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, the “interim president” of the Bolivarian Republic. In a joint statement by EU foreign ministers made on January 25, the self-proclaimed head of state, along with other opposition figures, was named “an important actor” and “privileged interlocutor.”
“The EU reiterates its support to all those working towards a democratic future for Venezuela. The EU repeats its calls for […] the freedom and safety of all political opponents, in particular representatives of the opposition parties elected to the National Assembly of 2015, and especially Juan Guaido, as well as other representatives of the democratic opposition. The EU considers them to be important actors and privileged interlocutors and encourages the democratic opposition to take a unified stance with a view to an inclusive process of dialogue and negotiation,” the document says.
In December 2020, the Bolivarian Republic held elections to the National Assembly, the country’s single-house legislature. The Great Patriotic Pole coalition won the election. It is led by Nicolas Maduro’s pro-presidential United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Prior to the elections, two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly were controlled by the opposition, with Juan Guaido serving as speaker of parliament.
During the briefing on January 6 the EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Peter Stano noted that the EU intends to continue supporting the leader of the Venezuelan opposition Juan Guaido and does not recognize the results of the parliamentary elections in the country.
Later that day, the European Council issued a statement by Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which states its intention to “maintain its engagement with all political and civil society actors,” including Juan Guaido and other representatives of the outgoing National Assembly.
The previous week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the EU countries to unambiguously recognize the continuation of the powers of the Venezuelan legislature, elected in 2015, and, accordingly, the “interim president.” However, this call was ignored, which drew criticism from individual MEPs.
The political situation in Venezuela escalated sharply in 2019. This came after opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose appointment to the position of parliament speaker had been cancelled by the country’s Supreme Court two days before, declared himself acting president on 23 January. The United States recognized him as the “interim head of state.” The US were joined by the countries of the Lima Group, except Mexico, as well as the Organization of American States and most of the members of the European Union. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called the incident an attempted coup and announced the severance of diplomatic relations with the United States. Russia, Belarus, Iran, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria and Turkey expressed their support for it.
Alexey Pushkov, Member of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, believes that the refusal of the EU to recognize Guaido as the head of Venezuela is a serious blow to US policy and its course of “regime change.”
“It is also a recognition of the wrong policy of the European Union itself. Venezuela has proven that it can withstand tough pressure from the Western alliance led by the United States. Maduro’s big win,” the senator wrote in Twitter.
According to Fulton Armstrong, Senior Fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, who has served at the US Interests Section in Havana, the EU is frustrated that US sanctions have only caused more humanitarian suffering and not produced the results that Washington promised.
“The EU does not like Maduro, disapproves of his incompetence as a leader, strongly opposes his human rights record, and doubts his legitimacy. But the EU believes that policy should be based on reality, and reality is that Juan Guaido is not, and apparently will not be, the president of Venezuela,” he said.
In his opinion, the EU’s recent shifts on Guaido strongly suggest the view that the solution is through negotiations, not a hostile “regime change” strategy.
“Guaido lacks popular support, policy skills, and political maturity. The EU knows that no leader who rides to power on the back of the United States government will be effective. The EU thinks that Venezuelans need a Venezuelan solution developed through negotiations,” Fulton Armstrong explained.
At the same time, according to him, both the Maduro government and the opposition are not yet convinced that they need to make significant concessions.
“Maduro has survived incredible challenges and feels he does not need to compromise. The opposition feels that the United States, at least under President Trump, will support them in any effort to remove Maduro legally or illegally. […] When the opposition realizes its weakness, and when Maduro feels concessions are possible, we will see progress,” Fulton Armstrong noted.
Meanwhile, Daniel Hellinger, Department of History, Politics & International Relations, Webster University, stressed that Nicolas Maduro has significantly enhanced his political position.
“Maduro has moved away from the progressive social and economic policies of Hugo Chavez. Some of this is pragmatically justified, given the economic crisis, but it also represents a blow to the Latin American left. […] The opposition is profoundly divided. However, there is growing discontent with economic and social conditions within sectors that were once solidly Chavista. This is evident in the abysmally low turnout in the National Assembly elections and protests about shortages and deteriorating health facilities,” the expert said.
According to him, today negotiations will have to focus on moving up the presidential elections, now scheduled for 2024 and having them closely observed, not only on election day but during the weeks leading up to the actual balloting.
“The thorniest issues for progress involve how accusations of corruption and human rights abuses by security forces will be handled,” Daniel Hellinger said.
In his opinion, the international community could play a major positive role, especially if the Lima Group of Latin American countries and the US follow Europe’s action to drop recognition of Guaido.
“China, Russia and Iran role should be to exercise restraint in terms of military sales and support to Venezuela but insisting on their right to invest in and trade with Venezuela,” he added.
According to Monica Rico Benitez, Associate Project Officer, CEPS, a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Bolivarian Republic can only be built from the inside through an inclusive dialogue between actors from each side of the conflict and civil society.
“However, Maduro’s administration has given no proof of will to liftoff such a process. Besides, the opposition continues to be severely fragmented. Considering Venezuela’s internal situation has exceeded its boundaries and has had severe international repercussions, such as the humanitarian crisis, an international mediation is not only viable, but very much needed,” the analyst said.
In her opinion, the EU refusal to recognize Guaido as head of Venezuela reflects a pragmatic position from a European institution that represents a large number of governments with diverse political orientations.
“However, the European Parliament has reaffirmed its recognition of Guaido as interim president. Considering that the European Parliament has a growing pressure capacity within the European distribution of powers, one would expect harder pressure on the Council to rediscuss its position over the Venezuelan conflict,” Monica Rico Benitez noted.
“From an international perspective, I believe it also reflects an EU that does not see the need to take a hard stand in the conflicting relations between the US and China, as it has done with other topics. The EU is taking a decision of its own, and it should not be interpreted in black and white in comparison to the US position. Actually, taking a stand of its own might contribute to EU’s image as an ‘alternative ally’ to facilitate future dialogues for a democratic transition, and it does not impede a fruitful collaboration with Washington,” she explained.
Monica Rico Benitez also added that not only the political, but also the humanitarian situation in the country is of particular concern. This opinioned was shared by her colleague, Andrea Renda, Senior Research Fellow and Head of Global Governance, Regulation, Innovation & Digital Economy, CEPS.
“The humanitarian emergency is clear to all, as the population suffers from shortages of food and experiences a dramatic loss of weight per person. Most people only eat once a day, and the healthcare system is unable to support those that suffer from illness. The food system has collapsed, as many other supply chains,” he said.
The expert stressed that he disagrees with those that claim that “only Venezuelans can save Venezuela.” According to him, the region and the global community must mobilize to help Venezuelans.
“My hope is that countries like Canada and the EU can team up with Latin American countries like Colombia to collectively find a suitable solution for the migration crisis, as well as for the political transition. This in my opinion requires a strong role of the EU, a diplomatic effort to mediate between the two opposed factions, and a program of economic and humanitarian support firmly grounded in the Sustainable Development Goals,” Andrea Renda said.
Source: OpEd – Eurasia Review