Warm welcome for Venezuela opposition leader Guaido

3 min

Brussels (AFP)

The EU offered a pointedly warm welcome Wednesday to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is seeking to broaden international support for elections to be held in his country to vote President Nicolas Maduro out of power.

Guaido is recognised as Venezuela's interim president by the US and around 50 other countries, though not by the European Commission, which describes him instead as the "legitimate" speaker of Venezuela's opposition-run parliament.

Still, the convivial handshake extended by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and meetings with other top officials from the Commission and the European Parliament underlined the bloc's broad support for Guaido.

Guaido's message, relayed in an interview with BBC radio, was that he was seeking "support to achieve the free and fair elections, support to fight against dictatorship" in Venezuela.

The Brussels stop was part of an international campaign Guaido is waging to shore up backing in his bid to succeed Maduro.

He defied a travel ban issued by Maduro's administration to go to Colombia and Britain before Belgium, and was to continue on to Switzerland to take part in the World Economic Forum in Davos and then to Spain at the end of the week.

In Bogota, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed President Donald Trump's full-throated diplomatic support for Guaido.

That was echoed in Britain, which is among the majority of EU countries that have joined the US in recognising Guaido's claim made early last year as Venezuela's temporary leader.

While there was no unanimous EU position on recognising Guaido as such, a European source said "the meeting (between him and Borrell) is a message in itself."

- Raid on Caracas offices -

Meanwhile, as Guaido was out of the country, hooded Venezuelan intelligence agents raided his Caracas offices, an action that underlined the crucial support Maduro continues to enjoy from his country's security services.

The EU, which is concerned by the unprecedented outflow of Venezuelans fleeing economic hardship, has seen its efforts to help solve the crisis in the South American country go nowhere.

The European Union has already imposed sanctions on Venezuela, including an arms embargo and the targeting of 25 of Maduro's officials for "human rights violations and undermining of democracy and the rule of law". It has resisted US pressure to ramp up the sanctions.

Guaido's status as Venezuelan president for many key countries but not the entire international community has contributed to a political deadlock that has dragged on.

"If Guaido wants to break the impasse he needs to count on other allies beyond the traditional support given by the United States and the Lima Group" made up of a dozen Latin American nations and Canada, said Carlos Malamud, an analyst at the Madrid-based Elcano Institute for International and Strategic Studies.