Venezuela’s opposition leader said Wednesday that he wants the European Union to broaden sanctions against members of the Venezuelan government as a way to push toward free presidential elections in the country.
Speaking in Brussels during a global tour that defied a year-long travel ban at home and sought allies’ support to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Juan Guaidó also told The Associated Press that he is seeking a meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington.
“We are making all efforts to align as many agendas as possible,” he said in an interview. “We don’t rule it out. We are looking for a space.”
Guaidó just missed an opportunity to meet the U.S. president in Europe. Trump was at the economic forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos on Tuesday and Wednesday, where the Venezuelan politician has a scheduled appearance on Thursday before he continues what he called an “intense agenda” that could also take him to France and Spain.
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A year ago, Trump’s administration rushed to throw its support behind Guaidó, the speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, recognizing him as the country's legitimate president.
About 60 nations have also backed him, contending that Maduro's 2018 re-election was invalid and marred by fraud. Guaidó, however, has been unable to remove the Venezuelan president from power. Maduro controls key government institutions, the Supreme Court, the electoral board and the military.
Despite the setbacks, including a failed call for a military uprising last April, the Venezuelan opposition has continued to increase pressure on Maduro. This week, Guaidó's team is pushing hard to secure appearances with foreign heads of government, like he did on Tuesday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
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Spain's new, left-wing government has said that Guaidó is welcome to visit the country, which hosts a large community of Venezuelans, but that he would be received by the foreign minister, not Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
That has been read as the influence that the anti-austerity Podemos party wields in Sánchez's new coalition cabinet. Podemos' founder Pablo Iglesias, now a deputy prime minister, once criticized the Spanish government for backing Guaidó, saying that the Venezuelan opposition leader sought a coup d'etat with U.S. intervention and a “blood bath” in the Latin American country.
Asked about the influence of Podemos in a country key in shaping the EU's Venezuelan policy, Guaidó said he trusted Sánchez's “determination and love for the values of freedom, democracy and the support that Venezuela and the region need."
“This is not a problem of right or left. In Venezuela, the problem is about the dictatorship and the citizens who keep fighting for their democracy and their dignity,” Guaidó said. “It's important not to see this with an ideological bias, but to understand clearly our demand for free elections.”
The 36-year-old opposition leader also wants Europe to ban the trading of Venezuelan gold mined from the country's southern jungles, what he calls “blood gold" responsible for damages in the environment and local communities. The metal has increasingly become a source of revenue there.
And after the EU pledged last year to stiffen the bloc's sanctions against Venezuelan individuals if the now defunct talks hosted by Norway to reach a negotiated solution to the country's 7-year-long crisis failed, Guaidó said the moment had arrived.
“Dictatorships and dictators need to know that there are sanctions, that there is a responsibility and that they can’t laugh at the world," he said.
After his meeting with the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, the European Foreign Affairs Office issued a statement saying that the bloc is committed “to support a genuine process toward a peaceful and democratic resolution of the crisis, based on credible and transparent presidential and legislative elections.”
Guaidó also lamented the raid of his Caracas office on Tuesday night by Venezuela’s powerful intelligence police unit, as well as the disappearance of Ismael León, a deputy in the National Assembly who the opposition said was taken by security forces.
He said those “attacks” were “unmasking the true nature of the dictatorship” but that he was nevertheless committed to returning to Venezuela.
“Without any doubt, I’m going back,” he answered when asked whether he feared reprisals or detention. “I am the interim president of Venezuela and we are going to work from Caracas, despite the risk that it carries.”