Mr Speaker, this house will by now be familiar with the plight of Venezuela. It is suffering from economic devastation, starvation and malnutrition. The flight of over three million Venezuelans to neighbouring countries is the largest migration crisis in Latin American history. The systematic dismantling of freedom, liberty and justice by the kleptocratic regime of Nicolas Maduro has marked it out as a country where peoples rights have been stolen.
In the last few weeks, the overwhelming majority of us in this House have condemned the political repression and electoral malpractice of a regime which is increasingly desperate to cling on to power. On Monday, my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK will now recognise Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly, as the Constitutional Interim President of Venezuela. The UK is one of 19 EU member states to have done so after the deadline for new elections to be called passed on Sunday.
It is worth reminding ourselves how events have rapidly changed the situation in Venezuela and have led the UK and our international partners to take action.
Last May, Nicolas Maduro claimed a victory in a Presidential election which was widely considered to have been deeply flawed Presidential elections. In January, a day after his so called Presidential inauguration, which was boycotted by the international community, the Venezuelan National Assembly declared Maduro’s tenure illegitimate.
The Venezuelan people have shown their discontent in massive protests across the country, demonstrating against the continued trashing of their country by the grossly incompetent, criminal and corrupt governance caused by Maduro’s warped version of socialism.
Mr Speaker, on the 23 January, the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, announced, with constitutional authority, that he will act as Interim-President of the country until free and fair elections take place. He spoke with the full backing of the National Assembly, which as an institution is the sole legitimate survivor of Maduro’s systematic dismantling of the country’s democracy.
This moment, Mr Speaker, saw Venezuela’s democratic leaders taking courageous steps to set things right and put the needs of the people before themselves. It was legal and gave the international community a responsibility to act immediately, as the US, Canada and Lima Group countries did - by supporting Juan Guaido and Venezuela’s legitimate representatives.
For our part, the UK worked closely with our EU partners shortly after Juan Guaido’s announcement. On the 24 January, the Foreign Secretary said that Nicolas Maduro was no longer the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Two days later, at the UN Security Council, I set out the UK’s position – shared by France, Spain, Germany and others, that if new Presidential elections were not called within 8 days, the UK would also recognise Juan Guaido as the constitutional Interim-President.
The arrogance of Nicolas Maduro, is such that those calls have not been answered. He has instead called for early new elections for the last remaining democratic institution, the National Assembly, so as to ‘bring peace’ which we can assume means to snuff out the remaining source of challenge to his grip on power. This is a false promise. The National Assembly has already been duly elected. Maduro wants it to be overseen by the Constituent Assembly which is his imposter alternative and which has no equivalent legitimacy.
The international community has taken significant steps in response to these events. I represented the United Kingdom at the United Nations Security Council when I set out the UK’s call for elections and made clear the responsibility of Council members to demonstrate the UN’s leadership on this issue, and we look forward to further discussions there.
On Monday, I went to Ottawa at the invitation of the Canadian Foreign Minister to join the meeting of the Lima Group countries where I discussed the situation with Foreign Ministers from across the region. We also discussed the importance of getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela and also to the neighbouring countries which are bearing the brunt of receiving over three million migrants.
It was during my trip to Ottawa on Monday that the Foreign Secretary formally announced that the UK recognised Juan Guaido as Interim-President of Venezuela, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. The UK was one of 19 EU member states including France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands to take similar simultaneous action.
We are not alone in our views of the Maduro regime. We continue to work in concert with the Organisation of American States, the Lima Group, the United States and like-minded European and international partners.
So what are the next steps?
First, we remain clear that Maduro is illegitimate and that we now recognise the National Assembly President, Juan Guaido as Constitutional Interim President of Venezuela until credible, free and fair elections are held.
We are providing support to multilateral organisations like the UN, EU and Red Cross Movement through our existing contributions. Last year the UK was the largest donor to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which has allocated $26m to the region including $9m for emergency health and nutrition support in the country.
We must also keep up the pressure on Maduro with one united voice. The UK has taken a lead in the EU by calling for a tougher response to the regime in the light of the failure to call new elections. This may include further targeted sanctions, in coordination with recent steps taken by the United States.
The UK also stands closely alongside our Lima Group partners. Outside Venezuela, they have borne the brunt of this crisis, and earlier this week their Ministers made it clear to me, in no uncertain terms the severity of the situation for them.
In speaking with one voice I sincerely hope that this House proves united in expressing its condemnation of Nicolas Maduro and in asserting its support for the Lima Groups determination to design a better future for Venezuela by working with Juan Guaido and the National Assembly.
I commend this statement to the House.