Venezuela Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president last month, received the recognition of Spain and Britain Monday February 4th, after President Nicolas Maduro defiantly rejected an ultimatum by European countries to call for elections.
Already recognised by the United States, Canada, Australia, and several Latin American countries, Guaido is trying to push the socialist leader out of power in order to set up a transitional government and hold new elections in the oil-rich but impoverished country.
The Spanish government’s move to recognise Guaido prompted its Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to ask the National Assembly head to "call elections as soon as possible, elections that have to be free and democratic."
The Prime Minister elaborated that he wanted to spearhead a plan of humanitarian aid for Venezuela in the European Union (EU) and United Nations.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt promptly followed suit, voicing his support:
"UK alongside European allies now recognises @jguaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held. Let's hope this takes us closer to ending humanitarian crisis," he said on Twitter.
Other European nations are expected to follow.
Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday midnight deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognise Guaido but in an interview with Spanish television station Sexta broadcast on Sunday evening February 3rd, Maduro said he would not "cave in to pressure" from those calling for his departure.
"Why does the European Union have to tell a country in the world that has already had elections that it has to repeat its presidential elections because they were not won by their right-wing allies?" said Maduro, interviewed in Caracas, and elaborated that "they are trying to corner us with ultimatums to force us into an extreme situation of confrontation."
Nonetheless, he supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states in a "Contact Group" meeting in Montevideo next Thursday and he made an open call to Guaido for "face-to-face" talks, which, however, the latter has already rejected.
Under Maduro, Venezuela has plunged into an economic crisis, leading to hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine, a situation that has long been denounced by the opposition and Guaido. Guaido astonished the world when he announced himself acting president at a rally on January 23rd, declaring Maduro’s presidency ‘’illegitimate’’ and based on flawed elections.
The first decision he took was to call on the army this weekend to allow humanitarian aid into the country and he expected to announce a date when humanitarian aid will arrive from the US, a path Maduro thinks will lead to a US-led military intervention.
However, Guaido said that up to 300,000 people are "at risk of death" in Venezuela for want of humanitarian aid.
The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Guaido on Sunday February 3rd, praising his "courage and leadership."
Trump has warned that military intervention remains "an option" in the Venezuelan crisis.
Significantly, all eyes are now on Venezuela's military, which up till now is Maduro's main pillar of support, but there have been signs of unrest in the ranks.
On Saturday February 2nd a top Air Force general publicly sided with Guaido, prompting Maduro on Sunday to address troops on military exercises in Venezuela's coastal northeast, calling on them for "maximum cohesion."
National Assembly polls
Tens of thousands of people turned out Saturday for competing shows of support for Guaido and for Maduro, who was sworn in on January 10th to a disputed second six-year term.
In an attempt to garner more support, during the protest Guaido announced the installation of collection centres for medicine and food, items lacking in Venezuela, in neighbouring Colombia and Brazil.
In a tit-for-tat move, Maduro spoke to a pro-regime demonstration marking 20 years since his predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power and reiterated his call to bring forward elections for the opposition-held national assembly.
However, Guaido called for a new demonstration on February 12th and another protest to push for the entry of aid.
Forty people were killed in clashes with security forces in the week of protests that coincided with Guaido's self-proclamation as acting leader, with hundreds more arrested, according to the United Nations.
The 14-nation Lima Group, made up of Canada and Latin American countries, meets in Ottawa on Monday February 4th. Eleven of its members have recognised Guaido.
Kremlin thinks otherwise
At the other end of the globe, Russia on Monday thought otherwise and slammed what it described as attempts to interfere in Venezuela's domestic affairs, in reference to other countries’ recognition of Guaido.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, "Attempts to legitimise usurped power" constituted "interference in Venezuela's internal affairs."