Spain has warned that it will not back any military intervention in Venezuela after the South American country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, urged other nations to consider “all options” to remove the president, Nicolás Maduro, from power.
Guaidó is due to meet the US vice-president, Mike Pence, in Colombia on Monday amid ongoing speculation that the Trump administration could use force to oust Maduro.
Guaidó’s appeal came after a day of violence on Saturday, as opposition supporters spent hours trying to break a government blockade and carry food and medical supplies into Venezuela. At least four people were killedand more than 300 hundred injured.
“The events of today oblige me to take a decision,” Guaidó said on Twitter on Sunday, “to formally propose to the international community that we should keep all options open to achieve the liberation of our homeland”.
Pence will announce “concrete steps” and “clear actions” at a summit of the regional Lima Group in Bogotá on Monday, a senior US official told reporters on Sunday.Advertisement
“What happened yesterday is not going to deter us from getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela,” the official said.
However, the Spanish government spoke out pointedly against any use of foreign force.
“Not every option is on the table,” the country’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, told the Spanish news agency Efe on Sunday. “We have clearly warned that we would not support – and would roundly condemn – any foreign military intervention, which is something we hope won’t happen.”
Borrell repeated calls for fresh elections in the South American country, adding: “The solution in Venezuela can only be reached through a democratic solution agreed by Venezuelans and the calling of presidential elections.”
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, was among the European leaders who recognised Guaidó at the beginning of February. Sánchez said there were deep ties that bound Spain to Latin America and promised to work to help “bring freedom, prosperity and harmony to all Venezuelans”.
The decision to recognise Guaidó prompted Maduro to lash out at the former colonial power and accuse Sánchez of being a coward and a US stooge.
Relations between the two countries have long been fraught. In 2007, King Juan Carlos famously objected to the behaviour of the then Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, at a summit, telling him: “Why don’t you shut up?”.
In January last year, Maduro’s government expelled the Spanish ambassador to Venezuela, leading Madrid to designate the Venezuelan ambassador to Spain persona non grata. The Venezuelan president said Spain was run by an “elite, racist colonial oligarchy” and had repeatedly meddled in his country’s affairs. The two countries agreed to normalise their diplomatic relations three months later.
Pence will have a one-on-one meeting in Bogotá with Guaidó, whom the US has also recognised as the interim president of Venezuela.
The 35-year-old, who transformed Venezuelan politics and united a fractured and ineffective opposition when he declared himself the country’s legitimate leader in January, has repeatedly said his focus is on a peaceful transition and new elections.
Guaidó claimed on Monday morning that more than 160 soldiers and policemen had fled to Colombia, refusing to continue to follow Maduro’s orders. “Venezuelans recognise the bravery and patriotic spirit of the more than 160 soldiers and policemen who yesterday were on the side of the constitution,” he wrote on Twitter. “Many more will follow their example.”
But his comments on Saturday raised concerns he might be considering a military intervention and were soon picked up by US hawks including the Florida senator Marco Rubio.
“The grave crimes committed today by the Maduro regime have opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago,” Rubio said in response to Guaidó, also on Twitter.
On Sunday morning, he added: “The willingness of many nations to support stronger multilateral actions to dislodge them has increased dramatically.”
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was more circumspect, saying “further action will be contemplated” at Monday’s meeting, but the focus would be on sanctions, humanitarian aid and actions by Venezuelans themselves.
On Sunday, a top US official was asked whether the US would provide military assistance were Guaidó to request it. “Ultimately, it would be a decision for the president to make,” the official said.
David Smolansky, opposition leader in exile and close friend and ally of Guaidó, insisted they were not calling for troops on the ground. “It is still a peaceful movement,” he said. “Violence yesterday came from armed pro-government gangs and security forces.”
But pressed on whether he would support military intervention in future, he declined to rule it out, saying: “The only option we have is to restore democracy and freedom with internal and external pressure.”
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, deplored the weekend’s killings, calling for violence to be “avoided at any cost and for lethal force not to be used in any circumstances”. He urged “all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent further escalation”.
His comments were echoed by Michelle Bachelet, the head of the UN human rights office.
“People have been shot and killed, others have reportedly received wounds from which they will never completely recover, including losing eyes,” she said. “These are disgraceful scenes. The Venezuelan government must stop its forces from using excessive force against unarmed protesters and ordinary citizens.”