EU recognizes Guaido, who was in Washington in December


Spain and 18 other countries belonging to the European Union on Monday signed a joint declaration of support and recognition for the United States-backed opposition leader as the interim Venezuelan president after an ultimatum they had signed calling on the embattled incumbent to call early elections expired.

The statement proclaims National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president with the aim of “calling free, fair and democratic presidential elections.”

Signing the declaration were Spain, Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Holland, France, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Croatia.

The move came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro failed to comply with an ultimatum from several EU members to call a snap presidential election.

“The goal is to call elections as soon as possible,” Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s prime minister, told a press conference at his official Moncloa residence in Madrid, kicking off a day of similar announcements across the bloc.

“These elections have to be free, democratic, with guarantees and without exclusions,” he said, adding he would liaise with EU member states and the United Nations to draw up a humanitarian aid package for Venezuela.

Guaido is the president of the National Assembly, which is considered by the EU to be the only the legitimate parliamentary body in Venezuela. In 2017, Venezuela’s Supreme Court, whose members are mostly pro-Maduro, withdrew recognition of the National Assembly and the government proceeded with elections to a parallel body known as the National Constituent Assembly, which was boycotted by the opposition.

Guaido, sent his “profound thanks” to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and to the “Spanish people” for recognizing him.

“My profound thanks to the Spanish people, my profound thanks to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez for the clarity he has shown ... I think that the recognition for my interim presidency and the mandate I have is crystal clear,” said Guaido from Parliament, which has an overwhelming opposition majority.

Earlier on Monday, Guaido had thanked Sanchez for recognizing him as interim president, which he said translates into the “support and commitment” of the Spanish government for Venezuela’s democracy.

Sanchez announced during an official government event that he was formally recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader and that he will promote within the European Union a plan to funnel humanitarian aid to the South American nation, which is mired in a dire economic, social and political crisis.

This recognition, which had been expected and comes in addition to similar acknowledgements from about 20 European countries, has as its clear aim the calling of “free, democratic elections (in Venezuela) with guarantees and without exclusions” within the minimum possible time.

Meanwhile, the Lima Group on Monday asked the Venezuelan armed forces to show “loyalty” to Guaido.

“We are issuing a call to the National Armed Forces of Venezuela to demonstrate their loyalty to the interim president. In addition, we urge them not to impede the entry and the transport of humanitarian aid to the Venezuelans,” said the Lima Group in its joint declaration released at the end of an emergency meeting.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at the opening of the meeting the granting of 53 million Canadian dollars (about $39 million) in humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan people.

In its final declaration, the Lima Group reiterated its “recognition and support” for Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and called upon the international community to provide its strongest support to establish a democratic transition government in Venezuela.

The Lima Group also condemned the ongoing and serious violations of human rights in Venezuela and rejected acts of violence and repression against popular demonstrations by the security forces.

In Washington, a White House spokesman requesting anonymity said that in December Guaido had visited Washington and met with officials of the Donald Trump administration in his first contact with the US government that a month later recognized him as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

The White House spokesman confirmed to EFE that “representatives of the administration have spoken with Guaido on several occasions, including during his December visit to Washington,” although the spokesman did not specify which US officials the Venezuelan met with.

Guaido’s visit, who according to press reports also traveled in December to Colombia and Brazil, came at a time when the Venezuelan opposition was designing a strategy to deal with Maduro’s imminent inauguration to a second term.

In New York, the United Nations will not join any the various international initiatives now in progress to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday.

“The UN secretariat has decided not to be part of any of these groups in order to give credibility to our continued offer of good offices to the parties to be able at their request to help find a political solution,” he told reporters.

Guterres met here last week with diplomats from Mexico and Uruguay about efforts to mediate between Maduro and Guaido.

An international contact group comprising the European Union and eight of its member-states along with Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay is due to have its first conference Thursday in Montevideo

Organizers had hoped that Guterres would attend.

The secretary-general said Monday that while he has been in contact with all of the nations involved in the Venezuela situation, the UN must strive to be seen by all parties as a honest broker.

Meanwhile, Maduro supporters on Monday celebrated the 27th anniversary of the failed military coup led by the late Hugo Chavez , founder of the ruling leftist PSUV party.

The commemoration comes amid a struggle for power between the Maduro government and Guaido.

The observance began in Maracay, west of Caracas, where Maduro led a procession of soldiers from a military technical school to the barracks of the 422nd Airborne Battalion, where then-Lt. Col. Chavez organized the attempt to topple the government of Carlos Andres Perez.

Marching in the front line along with the president were first lady Cilia Flores, PSUV No. 2 Diosdado Cabello, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

Though the failed coup of Feb. 4, 1992, cost Chavez his military career and two years in prison, it likewise launched him on the trajectory that led to his winning the 1998 presidential election.

Chavez came to refer to the attempted putsch as the seed of his “Bolivarian Revolution” and eventually made the anniversary an official holiday, National Dignity Day.