CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — International critics of Venezuela's socialist government have united in rejecting the country's newly chosen congress as illegitimate, but used notably different language Wednesday in referring to the opposition leader they have long recognized as the country's rightful president — hinting at potential divisions.
The European Union issued a statement vowing to continue “engagement" with opposition leader Juan Guaidó “and other representatives of the outgoing National Assembly.”
But it didn't refer to him as “interim president,” as it has in the past, nor did it mention the old, opposition-led assembly's claim to still be in power. That assertion, based on the claim the new legislature was elected illegitimately, has been backed explicitly both by the United States and by the Lima Group of more than a dozen nations from across the Americas.
It shows that international community is increasingly divided over Guaidó’s legitimacy, said Geoff Ramsey, director of Venezuela research at the Washington D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America.
“The longer this runs on, the more we’re going to see countries cool on Guaido and start to find ways of engaging with the de facto regime in Caracas,” said Ramsey, adding that the big question will be how the opposition responds.
“If they continue to place greater emphasis on international recognition at the expense of flagging support at home, it could spell doom for Guaidó and his coalition,” he said.
A EU official, however, insisted there was no change in the bloc's stance on Guaidó, saying the statement was merely meant to focus on rejecting the “non-democratic election” of the new congress, which was sworn in on Tuesday.
“Currently, 25 EU member states support and acknowledge National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as interim President of Venezuela, with a view to organizing new free and fair presidential elections,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of authorization to comment publicly.
The EU statement itself says, “The EU will maintain its engagement with all political and civil society actors striving to bring back democracy to Venezuela, including in particular Juan Guaidó and other representatives of the outgoing National Assembly,.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a far tougher stand on Guaidó's role and the new assembly made up largely of members loyal to Maduro:
“We consider this group to be illegitimate and will not recognize it nor its pronouncements,” he said Tuesday, referring to the pro-Maduro assembly. “President Guaidó and the (old) National Assembly are the only democratic representatives of the Venezuelan people as recognized by the international community, and they should be freed from Maduro’s harassment, threats, persecution, and other abuses.”
Guaidó was — or is — head of the old assembly and that led the U.S., European Union and two dozen other nations to recognize him as the country's interim leader in early 2019 when they declared Maduro's reelection to be illegitimate. But while Guaido's representatives occupy many of the nation's embassies, he holds no effective authority within Venezuela itself.
A broad coalition of Maduro opponents, led by Guaidó, boycotted the Dec. 6 election for seats in the National Assembly, arguing the result was rigged. Venezuela's pro-Maduro Supreme Court had appointed members of the nation's elections commission — legally the job of the congress — and also removed the leadership of three opposition parties, including Guaidó's.
The Lima Group, a coalition made up of countries including Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Canada, also issued a statement Tuesday rejecting the new assembly, denouncing the “dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro” and recognizing the leadership established by the old National Assembly, led by Juan Guaidó.
While it did not explicitly call him “interim president” as it has in the past, it referred to him as “presiding” over the leadership.
The U.S., EU and Lima Group all have repeated calls for new, democratic elections in Venezuela.
Raf Casert contributed to this story from Brussels.