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I would like to start by thanking the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, Canciller Rodolfo Nin Novoa], my friend, the President [of Uruguay] Tabaré Vázquez and all the Ministers and officials of all the countries that are part of the group for the hospitality, the good organisation of this meeting and, most of all, for the good will in this meeting and a very constructive and frank discussion that led to some concrete operational decisions, as you have heard.
We have decided to represent the two cultural, linguistic sides of this group, with me reading exactly the same text the Minister [Rodolfo Nin Novoa] has just read in Spanish, in English, so we are both on the record for different audiences in the world, as we see there is a lot of media attention – rightly so, I believe – for this first inaugural meeting that we had with the International Contact Group:
“Conscious of the severity of the current crisis in Venezuela and its impact in the region and deeply concerned by the plight of its people, the International Contact Group (ICG) on Venezuela held its first meeting in Montevideo on 7 February 2019.
The ICG aims to forge a common international approach to support a peaceful, political, democratic and Venezuelan owned resolution to the crisis, excluding the use of force, through free, transparent and credible presidential elections, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution.
In order for the country to overcome the current crisis, it is crucial to restore full democracy in all its dimensions, including rule of law, separation of powers and respect for the constitutional mandate of the country’s institutions, notably the democratically elected National Assembly.
The ICG stresses that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Venezuelans must be respected. It deplores the deaths and injuries caused by excessive use of force and underlines that violence is never a solution.
In its first meeting, the Group took stock of the situation in the country and discussed how the Group could best help in finding a peaceful path towards the holding of new Presidential elections with all the necessary conditions and guarantees in conformity with the Constitution, as laid out in the terms of reference of the ICG.
The ICG also recognized the humanitarian crisis that is deepening by the day, affecting millions of Venezuelans. The Group expressed its commitment to mobilize further assistance in areas of need and coordinate its delivery in liaison with the Joint UNHCR/IOM Special Representative, Mr. Eduardo Stein.
To that end, the ICG, through the co-chairs of the meeting, will proceed with the necessary contacts with relevant Venezuelan actors as well as with regional and international partners with the aim to: i) establish the necessary guarantees for a credible electoral process, within the earliest timeframe possible;
ii) enable the urgent delivery of assistance in accordance with international humanitarian principles.
To implement these two goals, the ICG will send a technical mission to the country.
The Group will reconvene at ministerial level by the beginning of March to take stock of progress. And in between we will have a Senior Officials meeting in the next couple of weeks.”
Q: This statement mentions calling for elections in the shortest possible time. Do you have specific framework? You were talking about 90 days, how are you going to convince Nicolás Maduro to accept this call for the elections?
First of all, I want to make clear that 90 days is not for elections calendar - this has to be obviously determined within the Venezuelan framework. This is the time framework for the Group to have a review of its work. We did not want to enter into an undetermined process, an open-ended process. When establishing this Group we agreed to review and assess the results - if any - of our work in 90 days and decide the way forward. The Group can decide to finish its activities even earlier or to extend its activities if we see that there is a process in place.
When it comes to the minimum conditions, the confidence building measures that we see are needed and are going to be the objective of our work of accompanying a process - that I stress has to be and we want it to be a Venezuelan process, completely owned by the citizens of Venezuela - they are clearly stated in our terms of reference. They relate to issues that will need to be on the table of discussions: release of political prisoners; lifting of the ban of opposition politicians and political parties to run for public office; recognition and respect for the National Assembly's constitutional role - that we mentioned-, its prerogatives and those of its members; facilitation of external assistance to address the pressing needs of the population - as we mentioned -; the balanced composition of a National Electoral Council; the elimination of the obstacles to the equal participation of opposition political parties in elections and the lift of the disqualification of opposition leaders; and the encouragement and the help to everybody to participate freely and fully in the elections. All of these issues will have to be elements of discussion. And when we refer to the need for guarantees, this is what we refer to.
Q: This call, is it open to the participation of other nations? Some wanted to participate or expressed the will to participate, such as Russia, and could not participate. Could you please explain in a broader way what this facilitation will be like? How can humanitarian help reach the people?
One word on humanitarian aid that for the European Union and its Member States - as you know - is particularly important. We have mobilised so far in 2018 and in the beginning of this year almost €60 million in support of the Venezuelan people, both inside the country and in the neighboring countries that are hosting so many Venezuelans. My colleague, the Commissioner for humanitarian aid [and crisis management, Christos Stylianides] in Brussels has just announced an additional €5 million that the European Union is mobilising.
And I want to stress something that for us is extremely important that we discussed at length today with the Ministers, namely the need to have humanitarian assistance, first of all, channeled, so that it can reach the people in need and, secondly, to have it channeled in an impartial and independent manner, so that humanitarian aid is never politicised. We attach great importance to the rules of humanitarian aid assistance and we believe that it has to be effective, but it also has to be properly managed. And the European Union is ready to open a humanitarian aid office in Caracas in the coming weeks to make sure that this happens in the proper manner, in coordination with the relevant UN bodies.
I would also like to thank the Minister [Rodolfo Nin Novoa], and also the Foreign Minister of Mexico [Marcelo Ebrard] for having been with us today, even if not part of the International Contact Group, because as the Minister [Rodolfo Nin Novoa] has rightly said, the two initiatives - el mecanismo de Montevideo, that Mexico, Uruguay and CARICOM [Carribean Community] have launched and presented yesterday and the International Contact Group that we have initiated today here in Uruguay - are two different things, with two different compositions and two different objectives. They are not incompatible with each other. On the contrary, we have discussed ways in which the two can converge towards the aim of having a peaceful, democratic outcome of this crisis, but the composition, the objective and the life of the two initiatives is different. Uruguay is the link - Montevideo is the physical link - to these two initiatives that remain distinct.
Q: So far, Juan Guaidó has been against the International Contact Group because he has been afraid that this Group might become a format for yet another dialogue or negations that could delay new elections. After your meeting, do you think you have got closer to Mr. Guiadó's position?
It is very clearly stated in the terms of reference the International Contact Group, the purpose of this Group which is to accompany the facilitation, the creation of necessary conditions for a credible process to emerge in line with the relevant provisions of the Venezuelan Constitution, enabling Venezuelans who are the masters of their sovereignty to determine their own future through the holding of new elections.
This is clearly stated in the certificate of birth of this Group that was inaugurated today and it is clear as the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, Rodolfo Nin Novoa] has said that accompanying this process practically on the ground will require dialogue, contacts - the name of the group is International Contact Group. It is only natural that it will establish contacts but we have lived already in the past years experiences of mediation, of negotiations, of so-called dialogue that have not led to results.
I understand that there is a certain frustration or skepticism in many - including in many Europeans and European Venezuelans - about opening processes that could buy time. This is not the intention of this exercise. The intention of this exercise is to accompany the emergence of a credible electoral process to solve peacefully and democratically the current crisis.
Q: What kind of dialogue did you have and did all participants accept the statement you presented?
First of all, we had a long meeting, a real meeting in the sense that sometimes you have meetings where Ministers come, read their notes, outcomes are already determined and then they leave. This was a real meeting where Ministers exchanged views. We discussed common or diverging analyses, experiences, ideas on what to do in concrete terms, so we have a clear idea on what to do as of tomorrow morning - the two of us [Federica Mogherini and Rodolfo Nin Novoa] and all the members of the group on the way ahead on the different tracks we discussed.
There was sometimes a difficult discussion, but always very constructive, very frank and with very concrete outcomes agreed. Also, discussing the declaration took us some time, which is a sign of seriousness of our discussion. One member of the International Contact Group asked us to not to have the name of his country associated to the statement released today because they could not identify themselves with some parts of the declaration, but they did not want to obstruct the common decision making.
That country is Bolivia, still being part of the group and still being eager to continue working together, including on the decisions we have taken today, on the following steps. But as they could not associate themselves fully with all the text, all the paragraphs of the text they decided, I think in a responsible manner, not to stop the adoption of the text and stay part of the group and we will continue to work together with our colleague from Bolivia [Foreign Minister Diego Pary].