EU ambassador leaves Venezuela after expulsion order

The head of the delegation of the European Union (EU) in Caracas, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa (C), offers statements to the press accompanied by the ambassadors in Caracas of Romania, Emil Ghitulescu (R), and of Greece, Nikolaos Kotrokois (L), in Caracas, Venezuela, 02 May 2018. [EPA-EFE/Miguel Gutierrez]

The EU’s ambassador to Venezuela left the South American country on Tuesday (2 March) after she was expelled last week over a diplomatic spat related to new sanctions.

Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, who is Portuguese, left Venezuela aboard a Turkish Airlines flight, an EU source told AFP.

The order to expel Brilhante Pedrosa came on February 24 in response to the EU imposing new sanctions on 19 high-ranking Venezuelan officials for “undermining democracy” and human rights abuses.

The expulsion order ran out on Saturday but was extended to Tuesday for logistical reasons.

“Today March 2 Caracas treated me to the most beautiful dawn with the Avila in all its glory,” Brilhante Pedrosa wrote on Twitter alongside a panoramic photo of the Venezuelan capital with its imposing mountainous backdrop.

“Infinite thanks to all Venezuelans for your love, acknowledgement and affection. I carry you all in many beautiful memories. My heart remains here. I love you Venezuela,” she added.

Amongst those sanctioned by the EU were Remigio Ceballos, one of the top military leaders, and Electoral Council president Indira Alfonzo.

The EU has now sanctioned 55 Venezuelan officials in total.

The latest sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, came after the EU rejected December legislative elections boycotted by the main opposition parties and which allowed President Nicolas Maduro to take control of parliament.

Until then it had been the only branch of government not under his control.

The election results were not recognized by the EU, the United States or several Latin American countries.

Venezuela blasted the EU measures as “illegal” and “aggressions.”

The EU responded to Brilhante Pedrosa’s expulsion order by declaring Venezuela’s representative to the bloc, Claudia Salerno, a “persona non grata.”

In July, after a previous round of European sanctions, Maduro had also given Brilhante Pedrosa 72 hours to leave the country. When the deadline passed, however, the government backed down.

US talks to Guaido

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Tuesday with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington recognizes as interim president, and proposed working with allies to increase “multilateral pressure” against leftist leader Nicolas Maduro.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido today. Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of a return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections,” state department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The two spoke via video call.

Blinken called for “efforts to work with likeminded allies” such as the European Union, the Organization of American States and initiatives such as the Lima Group to “increase multilateral pressure” for a “peaceful, democratic transition” in the South American country, the statement said.

Maduro, whose 2018 reelection has been deemed fraudulent by the White House, said after President Joe Biden’s inauguration that he wanted to forge a “new path” with the United States.

Relations between Washington and Caracas were tense under former president Donald Trump, who imposed crippling sanctions on Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA in an effort to force socialist Maduro from power.

Venezuela’s economic crisis has caused more than five million people to flee the country.

Blinken “committed to continued US support” in his call with Guaido, Price’s statement said.

Guaido, according to a statement from his office, told Blinken he was committed to the United States and other allies in seeking political solutions while increasing humanitarian assistance to Venezuela.

“They agreed to work with the international community to achieve free, fair and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections,” the statement said.

Before taking office in January, Blinken called Maduro a “dictator” and said he would continue Trump’s policy of recognizing Guaido as the interim president.

Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s leader in 2019, rooting his legitimacy in his role as speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly. His claim has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States.

Control of the legislative body has since been won by Maduro’s forces in December 2020 elections internationally considered rigged.

The US State Department also praised El Salvador Tuesday for holding “successful” legislative and municipal elections. Parties allied with President Nayib Bukele were victorious.

Washington called on “all parties to work together to resolve any remaining concerns about this election peacefully,” Price said in a statement.

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