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Venezuela says Lima Group encouraging US-ordered 'coup d'etat'

  • 5 Jan 2019

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza says "nothing or nobody will be able to prevent" the swearing in of President Nicolas Maduro on January 10, after the 14-member group, without Mexico, said it won't recognise Maduro's new government.

Foreign ministers of the so-called "Lima Group", which includes Canada and most of Latin America's top powers, meet in Lima to assess the current situation in Venezuela, on January 4, 2019. ( AFP )

Venezuela on Friday accused 12 Latin American countries and Canada of orchestrating a "coup d'etat", based on orders from the United States, after the 14-member Lima Group, without Mexico, said it would recognise Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

"Venezuela expresses great bewilderment at the extravagant declaration of a group of countries of the American continent which, after receiving instructions from the United States through a video conference, have agreed to encourage a coup d'etat," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said.

"The whole world will witness the swearing in of President Nicolas Maduro re-elected, and nothing or nobody will be able to prevent that from happening."

Pressure ahead of Maduro inauguration 

The reaction came after foreign ministers from Lima Group said on Friday their governments would not accept Maduro as Venezuela's president when he is sworn in for a second six-year term next week.

With the exception of Mexico, the group said it would not grant recognition to Maduro's socialist government, after meeting in the Peruvian capital to discuss ways to step up international pressure on Maduro's government, which has presided over the oil-rich country's economic crisis.

Peru's Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said the group had delivered "a strong political message" ahead of Maduro's inauguration on January 10.

Maduro was re-elected on May 20 in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States which called it a "sham."

"The main message is undoubtedly the non-recognition of the Venezuelan regime's new term," Popolizio told reporters.

The Group, of which Canada is a member, said Maduro should temporarily transfer power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until free elections can be held.

The United States, which is not a member of the group created after deadly anti-Maduro protests in 2017, participated in the meeting for the first time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented by video conference from Washington.

The arrival in power of a new far-right government in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro is likely to harden regional opposition to Maduro.

Bolsonaro, who has aligned himself with Washington by expressing hostility towards "authoritarian regimes," said on Thursday he was open to discussing his country's becoming home to a US military base "in the future."

Venezuela recently hosted the Russian Air Force, including long-range nuclear bombers, for joint military exercises – a move that stoked regional tensions.

Cutting diplomatic ties

The Lima Group action coincides with a statement from Venezuela's opposition-dominated but toothless National Assembly, which said it would not recognise the "illegitimate" Maduro when he takes office.

"We are facing a man who stole an election. We will not have more than a usurper (as president). Neither Venezuelans nor foreigners can recognize Maduro as president," opposition deputy Delsa Solorzano told AFP news agency.

Separately, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called on Twitter for the international community not to recognise Maduro.

Maduro, who was handpicked by Socialist president Hugo Chavez to succeed him when he died in 2013, was re-elected in May after early elections called by the Constituent Assembly, a body created by Maduro which has in practice replaced the legislature.

The Lima Group statement reiterated its support for the National Assembly, which it recognises as Venezuela's "constitutionally elected body."

Washington has recently stepped up contacts with South American states dealing with the influx of migrants –– around one million to Colombia alone –– from Venezuela's worsening economic crisis.

Pompeo was in Cartagena earlier this week for talks with Colombian President Ivan Duque. Both officials have denounced Maduro's "dictatorship" and agreed to step up efforts to isolate his government diplomatically.

Mexico against meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs

Mexico's new leftist government on Friday called on its peers to refrain from interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs, declining to back a regional declaration that urged Venezuelan president not to take office.

Mexico was the sole country in the Lima Group that opted not to sign a statement critical of Maduro, the first time Mexico has not supported a declaration by the group since it was created in 2017 to push for democratic reforms in Venezuela.

Mexico was once among the most outspoken critics of Maduro. But ties with Venezuela have warmed under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who invited Maduro to his inauguration last month.

Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico's deputy foreign minister responsible for Latin America, said following a Lima Group meeting that Mexico was concerned about the "situation regarding human rights" in Venezuela but would not comment on the legitimacy of its government.

Instead, he asked the Lima Group to rethink its approach.

"We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in internal affairs," Reyes said in a statement.

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