CARACAS, Jan 8, 2021:The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is facing the heat from members of the European Parliament who accuse him of giving the cold shoulder to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Borrell published a statement Wednesday on behalf of the EU in which he called Guaidó a representative of Venezuela’s “outgoing National Assembly” phrasing that has been widely interpreted as downgrading the role of Guaidó, who was recognized two years ago by many countries including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile and a broad majority of EU states as Venezuela’s interim president, after Nicolás Maduro’s reelection as president was widely denounced as illegitmite.

Maduro has managed to cling to power since and in December held elections to form a new National Assembly, which was inaugurated on Tuesday. Guaidó, who is the president of the previously elected parliament a position on which his leadership claim is based boycotted the election over concerns of fraud. Wednesday’s EU statement says the bloc “deeply regrets” that the South American country launched a new parliamentary term following “non-democratic elections,” and stresses that the previous parliamentary elections in 2015 were “the last free expression of Venezuelans in an electoral process.” At the same time, however, the statement only refers to Guaidó as a member of the “outgoing” assembly, with whom the EU wants to “maintain its engagement.”

Critics in the European Parliament argue this undermines Guaidó’s role as a leader of the last democratically elected parliament and by extension his legitimacy as interim president. “I regret the lack of recognition from the high representative to the only democratically elected representatives in Venezuela — the National Assembly elected in 2015 and interim President Juan Guaidó. This is not the time for ambiguities,” said Dita Charanzová, vice president of the European Parliament in charge of Latin American affairs.

“This is why I am pushing for a debate with a resolution for the next plenary session, for the European Parliament to urgently recognize the constitutional continuity of the legitimate National Assembly and of President Guaidó until free and fair legislative and presidential elections take place,” the Czech Renew Europe MEP added. Spanish MEP Jordi Cañas, also from the Renew group, said it was “urgent that Borrell gives explanations.” He added that it “is worrying” that the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), which Borrell leads, “qualifies as ‘outgoing’ an institution whose replacement has not been able to constitute itself democratically.”

Leopoldo López, a Spanish MEP for the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the Parliament, asked Borrell to take a clearer line on recognizing Guaidó. López stressed that Guaidó “is a legitimate member of the legitimate assembly who has not been substituted.” He added that the EU must “support the legitimacy of the National Assembly” from 2015 and “not recognize at all the attempt of usurpation through an obscure election by the Maduro regime.”  The EU has previously been unable to take a tougher line on Venezuela including as a bloc recognizing Guaidó as interim president because Italy’s government could not agree on supporting such a move. Decisions on EU foreign policy have to be taken with unanimity.

“The EU does not recognize, or not recognize representatives or governments, this is a competence of individual and each member state,” EEAS spokesperson Peter Stano said at a press conference on Thursday in defense of the EU. “We can recognize processes such as elections, for example in the case of Venezuela you know very well that we didn’t recognize the election and the results in December as free and democratic,” Stano said, adding: “So we are not recognizing the procedures and results, and as a consequence we don’t recognize the institution which was formed based on this process.”

Maduro Tightens Grip Over Venezuela With Win in Boycotted Congress Vote

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec 18, 2020: Nicolás Maduro tightened his grip over Venezuela on Sunday in legislative elections that some believe effectively marked the end of Juan Guaidó’s US-backed campaign to topple the South American strongman. The bulk of Venezuela’s beleaguered opposition boycotted the contest for the 277-seat national assembly, calling it a sham designed to lend Maduro’s authoritarian regime an air of democratic legitimacy. “The dictatorship doesn’t intend to hold an election, it intends to annihilate a nation’s hope,” Guaidó, the opposition leader, said on the eve of a ballot he denounced as a “fraud”.

But for Maduro, the vote was a chance to wrest control of the last state institution not commanded by his ruling Socialist party, by packing it with allies. Venezuela’s electoral authority said early on Monday that 67.6% of 5.2m votes cast were for pro-Maduro candidates. Just 31% of the 20 million registered voters participated in the election, the electoral board’s president, Indira Alfonzo, said in comments broadcast on state television. “We have recovered the national assembly with the majority vote of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said in a televised address. “It’s a great victory without a doubt for democracy.”

Losing control of the parliament – the last official bastion of opposition to Maduro – deals a further blow to Guaidó’s flagging crusade, which began when he declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate interim president in January 2019. A coalition of more than 50 governments, including the US, UK, Germany and Brazil, recognised that claim on the basis that Guaidó was head of the national assembly and Maduro’s 2018 re-election had been illegitimate. But Guaidó, who was among those boycotting the election, will no longer hold that position after 5 January, when the new parliament is sworn in, and his support base, both at home and abroad, appears to be collapsing. Last week, Guaidó’s envoy to the UK announced she was resigning, telling the Financial Times the future of his leadership was “unclear”.

“That is symptomatic of the fact that the coalition around Guaidó is really crumbling,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for Crisis Group. Gunson said he doubted foreign governments would immediately ditch Guaidó after the election and that he would “trundle on for a while”. “But unless he is able to reinvent himself in some way I think the Guaidó plan has clearly failed – and Maduro has every right to a victory lap. From his point of view, and it is hard to disagree, he’s seen the back of both Donald Trump and Guaidó. Nearly two years on [from the start of the campaign] there has been no progress – in fact, if anything Maduro is more in control, certainly politically, than he was before.”

Candidates in Sunday’s election included Maduro’s flute-playing 30-year-old son, Nicolás Ernesto Maduro Guerra, or Nicolasito (little Nicolás) as he is better known. Gunson said before the vote that the opposition boycott, the manipulation of Maduro’s government and the absence of impartial observers meant the election result was a foregone conclusion and the national assembly doomed to becoming a rubber-stamp parliament. “The government is guaranteed a very large majority,” he said.

For Maduro, the problem remained that “Venezuela’s economy is collapsed, the country is extremely isolated internationally, and there is a lot of discontent within his own movement”. “So it’s not like he is home free,” Gunson added. On Saturday, Maduro promised that what he called the “Day of Victory” election would herald “a new era of recovery and genuine progress for all”. Guaidó urged voters to stay at home, saying: “Today that is the best way of repudiating this fraud”.