Stand-off in Caracas

In a move that has been criticised as ignoring Venezuela's sovereignty, the US has taken a strong stance in the South American country.

28 January 2019 | International

The United States pressed all nations to “stand with the forces of freedom” in Venezuela, encouraged by a tougher European line as Russia stood in the minority in backing embattled leader Nicolas Maduro.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a forceful case at a special session of the United Nations Security Council, where he described Maduro as part of an “illegitimate mafia state” responsible for Venezuela's economic collapse.

With mounting protests over Venezuela's crisis in which more than two million have fled shortages of basic food and medicine, Pompeo asked all nations to follow the US in recognising opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.

“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo said.

He called on all nations also to end financial transactions with Maduro's government, which has struggled to pay bills despite the country's oil wealth.

Russia has denounced the United States for interference and attempted to block the Security Council meeting, but it was voted down with nine of the 15 members agreeing to go forward.

But Russia blocked a draft Security Council statement seen by AFP that would have offered “full support” to Guaido and called the National Assembly that he heads “Venezuela's only democratically elected institution”.

“Venezuela does not pose any threat to peace and security. The intention of the United States is to orchestrate a coup d'etat,” said the Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.

He accused the United States of continuing to treat Latin America as a “backyard where you can do anything you want” and, in a shot at the Europeans, said Russia would not raise France's populist Yellow Vest protests at the Security Council.

European powers, after cautious initial statements, warned that they will recognise Guaido unless Maduro calls elections within eight days.

EU foreign policy chief said the European Union would take further steps in the coming days if there is no election announcement.

Maduro's re-election last year was contested by the opposition and rejected by the US, EU and UN as a sham - but he has until now retained the loyalty of the powerful military.

Guaido, who has managed to galvanise a previously divided opposition, this week attempted to attract military support by offering an amnesty to anyone who disavows Maduro - and suggested amnesty for Maduro himself - but with no luck so far.

He has, however, rejected an offer of talks with Maduro, saying he won't attend a “fake dialogue” on a crisis that has left 26 dead in clashes this week between anti-Maduro activists and security forces. Both Guaido and Maduro have called for demonstrations next week, raising fears of further violence.

NAMPA/AFP

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