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Thank you very much, Madame President.
Venezuela urgently needs a political solution to end the current crisis and, first and foremost, to deliver on its people’s needs. And you know how many Venezuelans are also European citizens, how deep the ties are that link the country and the European Union culturally and socially - I would even say family ties. Yet, the latest developments have pushed the possibility of a compromise even further.
Since we last discussed Venezuela in the Plenary, that was just a couple of months ago, the negotiations in Santo Domingo were suspended indefinitely without an agreement between the government and the opposition. In spite of this, the government decided to go ahead with early presidential elections, to be held on 20 May.
There was no agreement on the electoral calendar, and the current electoral process does not guarantee transparent and credible elections, with the participation of all political parties in an equal manner and without obstacles. This non-inclusive decision will only exacerbate polarisation and tension, and it will create more obstacles to a political solution.
As these events unfolded, we have reacted immediately over the bans and difficulties created against the participation of opposition political parties and their leaders, including the exclusion of the opposition platform MUD, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática. The National Electoral Council has also decided to prevent the participation in the regional elections of those parties that do not present candidates for the presidential election. This is a further blow to the credibility of the process.
Back in February, as you know, we agreed with the EU Member States' Foreign Ministers that we would follow the electoral process in Venezuela very closely, together with our regional and international partners.
On 19 April, we issued a Declaration on behalf of the European Union – calling for free, transparent and credible elections: we asked for an agreed electoral calendar and for guarantees in conformity with international standards. We will re-assess the situation with Member States after the elections. We will consider the possibility of further appropriate measures to react to actions that would undermine democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the country.
In the meantime, I have been in close contact with several of our partners: first of all, inside Venezuela – and I come to that in a minute – but also in the region and with the international community where we have coordinated positions and exchanged on the best way to address this crisis. Inside Venezuela, I have met here in Brussels both the government of Venezuela and the opposition: our goal has always been to support Venezuela and to help it hold inclusive and credible elections.
I met with the Foreign Minister [of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza] on 11 April, encouraging the government to go back to the negotiating table and to show flexibility, towards an agreement with all the opposition on the date and on the electoral conditions. I also informed the Minister that the European Union could not accept the invitation from the Venezuelan authorities to accompany these elections, because the current conditions of the electoral process do not allow a proper observation to take place. We have clear standards for accompanying and observing elections, and obviously, in this case, these conditions are not in place.
Last week I met with the President of the National Assembly [Omar Barboza] and representatives of the four main opposition parties [Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular, Acción Democrática and Un Nuevo Tiempo]. This was first and foremost to show our full support to the National Assembly. I also encouraged the opposition to continue working in a united manner, towards a democratic and peaceful solution to the crisis.
But this is not only a political crisis. Venezuela is facing huge economic and social challenges, and we hear this from so many Venezuelans. Inflation is foreseen to reach 13,000 per cent. The population has to deal with shortages of food, medicines, water and electricity. Many Venezuelans have sought refuge in Colombia and Brazil, but also in Panama, Peru, Chile, and in the Caribbean.
The European Union is stepping up its humanitarian support to the people of Venezuela, both inside and outside the country. The European Union will provide 8 million euros in humanitarian assistance, and we are mobilising other financial instruments in support to Venezuelan refugees and the host countries and communities.
Against this background, it is time for all sides to engage seriously towards shared solutions. The government has the responsibility to create the conditions for free and fair elections, based on a consensual calendar, with the participation of all political parties. We call for a revision of the electoral calendar, based on an agreed and credible timeline. As European Union, we will continue to monitor any development, together with our partners, and we will calibrate future actions in light of the evolution of the situation.
Let me explicitly conclude by saying that the European Union does not interfere in domestic politics. We never do. And we do not impose solutions. We simply do everything we can to accompany, to help the Venezuelan parties, the Venezuelan people, find the solution – their own solution – which their country and their citizens deserve to achieve.
This crisis is not a natural disaster, this crisis a man-made crisis. There is nothing inevitable about it. And this means that a political solution is possible. And so is a better future for the people of Venezuela. We care about Venezuela, because we care about the people of the country. As friends, as family, we hope for the best for those we care about – a peaceful, democratic, shared political solution for Venezuela.
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