Venezuela expels EU ambassador

Caracas, Feb 24 (efe-epa).- Venezuela declared the European Union’s envoy to the Andean nation persona non grata on Wednesday in response to the bloc’s recent decision to impose sanctions on 19 Venezuelan officials, including opposition members of congress.

In conjunction with the expulsion, the foreign ministry presented formal protests of the sanctions to diplomats representing France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

The EU ambassador, Isabel Brilhante, was given 72 hours to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza summoned Brilhante to a meeting a day after Venezuela’s National Assembly passed a resolution calling on the government to expel the EU representative in retaliation for what lawmakers described as the bloc’s interference in the internal affairs of the oil-rich South American country.

Arreaza told reporters that he informed Brilhante of the expulsion after a private conversation in which he explained to her that EU sanctions against Venezuelan officials signified “disrespect” for his country’s constitution.

The foreign minister said he hoped that the drastic step would prompt the EU to undertake a “process of thoughtful analysis” and put aside “those interventionist and bullying attitudes.”

The EU, Arreaza said, should “stop being an appendage of the dominant elite” – an allusion to the United States – and “learn to respect independent countries.”

Brilhante had been told to get out of Venezuela once before, on June 29, 2020, but on that occasion, President Nicolas Maduro reversed the decision days later in a bid to promote dialogue between Caracas and the EU, who have been at odds since May 2018 when the bloc refused to accept the incumbent’s election victory.

The EU joined the US in rejecting the ballot, which was boycotted by most of the Venezuelan opposition, as not free or fair.

In January 2019, the then-speaker of the National Assembly, opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president.

While the US embraced Guaido and the EU followed suit, though more than two-thirds of United Nations member-states maintained recognition of Maduro as president.

When Guaido lost his position in congress in last December’s legislative election, the EU said that it could no longer recognize him as head of state. At the same time, Brussels continued to deny the legitimacy of the Maduro government and enacted additional sanctions.

“The EU profoundly regrets and calls for the reversal of the decision to declare the EU Ambassador persona non grata,” Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Efe.

Expelling the diplomat “only leads to further international isolation of Venezuela and undermines efforts to overcome crisis through negotiation and dialogue,” Massrali said.

After informing Brilhante of her expulsion, Arreaza spent nearly an hour with Ambassadors Romain Nadal of France and Daniel Kriener of Germany, and the respective charges d’affaires of the Spanish and Dutch embassies in Caracas, Juan Fernandez Trigo and Robert Schuddeboom.

The diplomats declined to comment as they left the foreign ministry, but Arreaza told reporters that along with the letters of protest, he presented each of his guests with copies of the Venezuelan constitution and the United Nations Charter to remedy what he perceived as their lack of familiarity with the texts.

“It was those four governments who acted with the greatest ill intent to promote new attacks with these attempted sanctions against Venezuela,” the foreign minister said.

He revealed that he had received a message “from a counterpart” in Spain recommending in connection with the latest EU sanctions that Venezuela not respond “to rifle shots with cannons.”

That message, Arreaza said, was an attempt to shift the responsibility for the diplomatic rift onto the Venezuelan government, adding that the measures taken by the EU and some of its individual member-states “are not cannons, they are atomic bombs.”

He said that Venezuela does not want “to have to say good-bye” to any more ambassadors.

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