Venezuela says won't expel envoy, but demands EU action


Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela on Thursday reversed a decision to expel the EU's ambassador in a tense stand off with Brussels over sanctions, but Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Caracas expected action in return.

Caracas was making "a gesture" in order "not to hinder the dialogue with the European Union," Arreaza told satellite channel Telesur.

"And we hope therefore, that there will also be gestures from Europe to have a much more objective position on the events in our country," said Arreaza, who has criticized the EU for slavishly following Washington's uncompromising stance on Caracas.

A joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier that "the Venezuelan government decided to nullify the decision" to expel the ambassador.

President Nicolas Maduro on Monday gave the EU's Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa 72 hours to leave the country in response to European sanctions against 11 Venezuelans.

The socialist leader said he had decided to pull back from expelling the Portuguese diplomat after what he described as a "tense" conversation between Arreaza and Borrell.

"I told Foreign Minister Arreaza: Let me think about it, I think it's a good idea to give a chance, as John Lennon said... to dialogue, to diplomacy, to communication and to a new understanding with the European Union," Maduro said during a speech at a military event in Caracas.

Arreaza said he recognized that Borrell had to consult with the EU's council of ministers before any changes to EU policy.

"The decision-making mechanisms of the European Union are very complex."

"There are discussions and debates that must be opened in the European Union, but Venezuela hopes that there will be some kind of gesture to accompany the one we have made."

Borrell had condemned the expulsion, saying it would not go unanswered and the EU said that it would summon Venezuela's envoy to the bloc.

- Tense relations -

Relations have been tense since 2017, when Venezuela became the first Latin American country to be hit by EU sanctions, including an arms embargo.

Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament on Tuesday blasted the government over the "unacceptable expulsion."

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, the National Assembly president, called it "an outburst of arrogance, a new outburst that seems like madness on the dictator's part."

Among officials hit with new EU sanctions on Monday was Maduro-backed opposition legislator Luis Parra, who is challenging Guaido for the leadership of the National Assembly.

Arreaza, in his interview with Telesur, urged Brussels to "stop following Washington's strategy of changing the government by force."

The United States expressed support for the EU sanctions against "the illegitimate Maduro regime."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that expelling the EU ambassador would only have served to further isolate Venezuela.

Guaido's representative in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, suggested on Twitter that claiming it was making a "gesture" was just a smokescreen for an ignominious climbdown by Maduro.

- Venezuelan gold -

Earlier Thursday, a British judge ruled that more than $1 billion in Venezuelan gold reserves held by the Bank of England could not be released to Maduro's government, because Britain -- along with around 60 other countries -- had "unequivocally recognized" Guaido as the country's leader.

In Geneva, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet presented a report condemning "arbitrary detentions, violations of the guarantee of due process" and cases of "torture and forced disappearances" in Venezuela.

In 2020 through the end of May, 1,324 people were reportedly killed in the context of security operations.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile, also lamented the country's political stalemate in the run-up to December elections.

The main opposition parties have announced a boycott of the polls after the regime-controlled Supreme Court named a new electoral authority, even though under Venezuelan law that task falls to the parliament.

Bachelet said such decisions "diminish the possibility of building conditions for credible and democratic electoral processes."