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The people of Venezuela have faced and are still facing a dramatic situation. The humanitarian situation is still dire and is getting worse by the day. 7 million Venezuelans in the country are in need of assistance and 3.7 million people are malnourished, according to UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organisation], respectively. 4 million Venezuelans have already fled the country in the past 4 years and future projections point to continuous increases. The regional impact of the crisis is massive, including for the stability of the region. And on the political front, the government has arbitrarily arrested many members of the National Assembly, and lifted them of their parliamentary immunity.
The recent death of Captain Acosta Arévalo, after he was taken in custody by the Venezuelan security forces, is for me, but I think for all of us, shocking. We have immediately called for a thorough and truly independent investigation that brings those responsible to justice. We have all seen the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, that confirms what we already knew very well: that human rights violations in Venezuela are frequent and serious. We fully support both the findings of the report and most importantly the recommendations.
Just today I issued a statement on behalf of all 28 Member States, making clear that we “stand ready to assist the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her efforts to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Venezuelans are fully protected.” In light of her report, we are also “ready to start work towards applying targeted measures for those members of the security forces involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights”.
Addressing the humanitarian and social emergency in Venezuela is urgent and long overdue. In the last weeks, something has started to move on the diplomatic side. The talks that Norway is mediating have resumed last week in Barbados and new meetings are ongoing as we speak. We all know that the path towards a democratic transition is fraught with obstacles. Yet, for the first time in months or even years, this can be a preliminary step in the right direction – towards a peaceful and democratic transition, both peaceful and democratic with free and credible presidential elections.
I am proud of the key role that the European Union has played in giving diplomacy a chance. When violence seemed to be the only game in town, and a very risky one, not only for Venezuela but also for the region and for the rest of the world, we insisted that there was no military solution to the crisis, and that any outcome had to be both peaceful and democratic.
This is why we set up the International Contact Group at the beginning of this year, with the crucial participation of four Latin American countries and just last week a fifth country from the region asked to join in. The Contact Group was never supposed to mediate talks, we knew that from the very beginning, also because a mediation, especially a mediation as complex as this one, cannot be mediated by a group, and also because we knew very well that the conditions for starting a mediation, when we started the International Contact Group were not there at all. So the group was not created for a mediating process, we have always been very clear on this, including in this hemicycle. The goal of the Contact Group has always been to try and contribute to create the conditions for a meaningful mediation to be launched in a credible manner, in the right framework, in a moment – I stress this – when an escalation seemed almost inevitable.
Today, after months of good work – and I would like to thank my colleagues, both the Foreign Ministers of the Latin American countries and of the European countries that are part of the Contact Group but also all our teams that have been working on this literally night and day with a lot of dedication – after months of work, today the space to build a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis has opened up.
In these months, the Contact Group’s role has been recognised by all parties – inside the country, in the region and in the international arena. I engaged personally with all our international interlocutors, from the United States to Russia and China, from the Vatican to Cuba, from the Lima Group to Caricom [the Caribbean Community]. The representatives of the Contact Group met all Venezuelan actors during their visits to Caracas. My special adviser for Venezuela, Enrique Iglesias, was in Caracas just days ago and he met all relevant actors at the highest level, starting with Juan Guaidó, Nicolas Maduro, the United Nations, the main political parties, but also civil society and the Catholic Church.
This work has been essential to open the space for a political solution. It is not to be taken for granted at all that this space is going to be used to reach a political solution, but at least we have stopped the escalation on the military and violent side and we have given the political solution a chance. This is why we all agreed – at the Contact Group’s meeting in Costa Rica a few months ago – first of all to continue our work but also to intensify our political engagement and our outreach to relevant international actors.
The process that has now started is extremely fragile, but this is exactly why we must do everything we can now, to support and accompany the talks in Barbados. A peaceful and democratic transition has to come from within Venezuela, it can never be imposed from the outside. But we can and must facilitate this process with all means, as we did in these months. And we must be crystal clear, there is no doubt about that, the country needs new presidential elections with a free and fair electoral process, with a level playing-field for all candidates. Venezuela also needs an effective separation of powers, starting with the recognition and respect of the National Assembly's prerogatives, and of the immunity of all its members.
Some essential elements for a credible process have emerged very clearly from our talks, our work in these months. First, that crucial State institutions such as the Supreme Court of Justice and the Citizen's Power work for all citizens of Venezuela in an impartial way. In particular, a revised and balanced composition of the National Electoral Council will be needed. Second, that all candidates are allowed to participate in the elections with the same rights and with no arbitrary restrictions. Third, that the voter register is updated, including young voters and Venezuelans abroad. And fourth, that international election observers monitor the whole electoral process and not just the election days.
The European Union and the entire International Contact Group are ready to help throughout the electoral process, if the parties ask for our support and if we get to that stage. This is probably the most delicate moment in the path that could lead towards a peaceful and democratic solution. This is the moment to do everything we can to strengthen this fragile process, and help it deliver on the Venezuelan people’s aspirations.
We continue to believe that a certain degree of pressure needs to be maintained. The Venezuelan regime needs to understand that the status quo is simply not an option. It is not sustainable, not for the country, not for its citizens, not for the region and not for the world.
Today with our statement with all the 28 Member States, we clearly recalled that, I quote “in case there are no concrete results from the ongoing negotiations, the EU will further expand its targeted measures”. At the same time, we made clear once again, I quote again, “that these measures can be reversed in case substantial progress is made towards the restoration of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Venezuela”.
In the meantime, we will also continue to work, through the Contact Group and in close cooperation with the UN, to guarantee full access to humanitarian assistance, without any restrictions, including by local humanitarian NGOs. We welcome the progress that has been made in this direction, that we have accompanied and pushed for in these months, including with the appointment of a Humanitarian Coordinator by the UN.
Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been, as European Union, one of the largest humanitarian donors to Venezuelan people inside the country but also in the neighbouring countries and in the region. We continue to support at political and financial level all regional and international initiatives to address the refugee crisis, starting with the Quito Process and this will not change. As we work on the political path we also need to be extremely active on the humanitarian support. But beyond humanitarian aid, vice versa, we have I believe the responsibility to keep accompanying the work towards a peaceful and democratic way out of the crisis.
Link to the opening statement: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-176078
Thank you Mr. President.
I think I never heard in this hemicycle anybody wishing to see a military invasion of another country and I hope this will not happen again. This strikes me, this shocks me and I think we can be proud if it was the European Union, through our work with the Contact Group, with the countries in the region with the United Nations agencies, who stopped any thinking of a military escalation from the outside of the country and from the inside of the country.
I am proud we have been the ones working with the United Nations agencies, with humanitarian agencies, to allow them to enter the country and deliver assistance to the population. I am proud we have been and we continue to be, probably the biggest donor for assistance to the Venezuelan population.
I hope you keep that in mind and I hope, I really hope – I will be sharing only a few months with this Parliament – but I really hope that you will have these five years ahead of you without thinking, imagining that a military intervention to invade a country is a good option. This scares me as a European, if I can say so. I think this should be very clear in everybody's mind in Europe because we have lived, in Europe, what it means to be at war and I think that the value of our work in the world is exactly our history: it is full of blood and that has taught us that war is never a good idea.
We will continue and I think that there is large convergence in this hemicycle – not full convergence, I didn't expect that – on the need to continue working in this direction. First of all, to insist for a peaceful solution, excluding any military attempt. Second, to work for a democratic solution with early presidential elections, with all the guarantees that this can be finally free and fair, which has not been the case before. Thirdly, this includes dialogue, diplomatic engagement, full support that we have been providing even before the talks mediated by Norway have started. We will continue to support the talks, knowing, without being naïve, that in the past, previous experiences of negotiation and mediation have proven to be so difficult and also inconclusive.
I think we have a duty, the European Council also thinks we have a duty – I should move to the other part of the hemicycle here to say that – that we have to support this chance that a democratic peaceful transition can happen with political means, with diplomatic efforts.
This includes also sanctions – I want to stress this very clearly, because I hope that who is sitting in this hemicycle knows at least what policies the European Union has in place and not in place. The European Union measures are not sanctions against the country or the population. The measures that we have in place are targeted to persons, single individuals that are responsible for serious violations of human rights. I want this to be very clear.
Last but not least, humanitarian support. I think we will need to continue to first of all provide resources. Last time I talked to [Mark] Lowcock the [United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs], he was telling me that at this stage, the main problem when it comes to humanitarian assistance, is indeed the lack of resources, much more than the difficulties of access.
I think that we have a responsibility as Europeans to keep and even increase the level of assistance to the population, for our brothers and sisters in Venezuela. We have so many ties, so many family ties and some of them are sitting in this room, that we have an interest, a duty to support the people of Venezuela and there is no doubt about that.
But we also have a duty, a responsibility to call for others to increase or to raise humanitarian assistance. Because as there is a work to try and achieve an electoral process as soon as possible that is transparent and fair and credible, we cannot ignore the dramatic humanitarian needs of the population.
And last but not least, to support the work of Michelle Bachelet [the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights], including with additional measures, if the Member States would consider unanimously this is the case. To support her work, again with individual targeted measures that we can introduce, following up the recent reports on the human rights violations that are extremely serious.
So I hope this Parliament will be, if not unanimously, largely behind this approach, because having a strong voice from the European Parliament, from the European institutions will be crucial to have a key role, including with the countries in the region from Brazil to Colombia, all of them, from Mexico to the countries that are part of the International Contact Group, to make Europe part of an active solution that is, let me stress once again, peaceful and democratic.
Link to the closing statement: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-176080