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Strasbourg, 6 February 2018
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Mr President, let me start by saying that what we see in Venezuela is obviously, first and foremost, a political crisis, but it is also an economic, social and refugee crisis, with serious repercussions on neighbouring countries, starting with Colombia and Brazil.
Everything we are doing as the European Union aims at a peaceful and democratic solution to all these different layers of the crisis, through credible and serious negotiations. As we speak, other efforts are ongoing to resume negotiations, and we can just hope that, this time, we will see some credibility and some concrete steps and openness in place. That has not been the case so far but it is never too late.
When we last discussed Venezuela in this plenary, last September, we indicated four main areas where steps needed to be taken: an agreed calendar and conditions for credible elections; the facilitation of an emergency access plan for external assistance; the liberation of political prisoners; and respect for democratically elected institutions, notably the National Assembly. Unfortunately, progress was not made on any of these points.
Throughout this period we have repeatedly engaged, all together as the European Union and together with our Member States, in a well-coordinated approach. In several meetings with our Venezuelan interlocutors we have discussed the need to respect democratic principles, democratic institutions, human rights and fundamental freedoms. We have called for serious engagement and flexibility in the ongoing negotiations to achieve a political agreement as a matter of urgency. Again, let me stress that talks are restarting, hopefully within hours.
It was with a heavy heart that Member States decided to adopt targeted restrictive measures, in the absence of concrete results and in view of the constant deterioration of the situation. It is the first time that we have imposed measures of this kind in a Latin American context, and the decision was not taken lightly, as you can imagine. On 13 November, the Council adopted together targeted, gradual and reversible restrictive measures. These comprised a ban on the export of arms and equipment for internal repression, and a framework decision for a travel ban and assets freeze. Two months later, the Council recognised the lack of progress in the national dialogue and the worrying deterioration of the political and social situation in the country. As a consequence, the Council adopted a list of seven individuals subject to these measures. These targeted restrictive measures do not harm the people of Venezuela, but are directed at seven individuals who are responsible for undermining democratic principles and the rule of law and for human rights violations. Our measures are a signal to the authorities of Venezuela, an invitation to engage seriously towards a negotiated solution to the crisis and to reverse the moves that have called into question Venezuela’s constitutional order.
We continue to monitor events on the ground and we stand ready to take appropriate measures in one way or another if the situation in the country evolves, with the constant aim of supporting democratic and negotiated solutions.
The recent decision of the Government of Venezuela to declare the Spanish Ambassador persona non grata is wrong and unacceptable, first and foremost because closing diplomatic channels does not help at a time when it is more important than ever to keep them open and seek a solution. We expect the Government of Venezuela to show genuine engagement in the negotiations and openness to compromise. We also hope that the opposition can work in a united and constructive manner. This is what the country needs in order to address the current challenges. Both parties should agree on a mutually acceptable date for the presidential elections. Unilateral decisions will only create more polarisation and new obstacles to a peaceful solution.
It is also essential to set up guarantees to ensure free, transparent and credible elections. No artificial conditions should be imposed to limit the participation of political parties. The Supreme Court has decided to block the participation of Mesa de la Unidad Democrática in the elections, and clearly this goes against the goal of free, fair and inclusive elections.
The people’s trust in elections can be regained only through a credible electoral process, with the lifting of bans on political opponents, with independent international observers and a balanced composition of the National Electoral Council. The future of Venezuela should be determined by its people. This is what we are asking of the Venezuelan authorities and all national political forces: the future of Venezuela should be determined by its people.
We do not take sides in Venezuela’s domestic debate but we do ask for this debate to be democratic and inclusive, in line with the Constitution of the country. We see that the people of Venezuela are suffering, including the many European Union citizens who are also Venezuelan citizens. We have a stake in this. Everything we do is to encourage and support the country to come out of this political, economic and social crisis.
We are also concerned about the progressive deterioration of the social situation. The reports we are receiving from the United Nations agencies are extremely worrying. More than one million people are currently food insecure and the percentage of children affected by global acute malnutrition has reached emergency levels. The lack of medicines is estimated at around 90% by the National Chamber of Pharmacists. Diseases such as malaria and diphtheria that had disappeared are now spreading across the country. And there are no signs of recovery from the economic crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have already left the country.
I want to reiterate that the repercussions in the region – on the fragile process in Colombia, on Brazil, on the regional organisations that are trying to move forward the regional integration process of Latin America and the Caribbean – are particularly worrying. The European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (DG ECHO) is present in Bogotá and deploys regular missions to Venezuela and bordering regions to evaluate the humanitarian situation, including the humanitarian conditions of the numerous Venezuelans who are fleeing the country to neighbouring countries. We are exploring all possibilities to develop our support, together with Member States and also with other donors and partner agencies. Let me stress once again that we will adapt our policies to any change in the situation in Venezuela, in one sense or the other.
We need to see progress in the negotiations. I believe progress is still possible. It is a matter of political will. It is in the hands of the parties. As I mentioned, the Government has a clear responsibility to show flexibility and to engage seriously in these negotiations, and we hope to see real, concrete, encouraging steps.
Link to the opening remarks: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150326
Link to the closing remarks: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150328