Warm EU welcome for Venezuela opposition leader Guaido

Toni CERDÀ
While there was no unanimous EU position on recognising Guaido, right, as Venezuela's interim leader, a European source said "the meeting (between him and Borrell) is a message in itself"

The European Union offered a pointedly warm welcome Wednesday to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is seeking to broaden international support for elections to vote President Nicolas Maduro out of power.

Guaido is recognised as Venezuela's interim president by the United States and 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 Parliament underlined the bloc's broad support.

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.

In a statement, Borrell's office said he had stressed the EU's willingness to back "a peaceful and democratic resolution of the crisis" during his talks with Guaido.

"They both underlined the urgent need for a concerted approach both amongst the actors in Venezuela and within the international community for a meaningful political process," the statement said.

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 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, a European source said "the meeting (between him and Borrell) is a message in itself".

- Raid on Caracas offices -

Meanwhile, with Guaido out of the country, hooded Venezuelan intelligence agents raided his Caracas offices, underlining the crucial support Maduro continues to enjoy from his security services.

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

The bloc 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.