Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday (12 February) described Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó as the “opposition leader” of the Latin American country, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.
With this statement, Sánchez sought to defend one of his key ministers, José Luis Ábalos, who came under fierce criticism after he met the number two of Nicolás Maduro’s government at Barajas airport in Madrid.
The move triggered a wave of outrage from the opposition, ranging from the conservative Popular Party (PP), the liberal-centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox.
But Sánchez defended Ábalos, his Transport Minister and a key member of his government, saying that he did the right thing by meeting Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s vice-president and second-in-command after interim president Juan Guaidó.
According to Spanish site Voz Populi, minister Ábalos met Maduro’s aide on a private jet coming from Caracas during a stopover in Madrid.
Ábalos claimed he was there to greet the Venezuelan tourism minister and had no “formal contact” with Rodríguez.
But after a series of contradictory versions, he said he only informed her that she could not step in Spanish territory because of the EU-wide ban.
The EU adopted a set of sanctions against Maduro’s regime back in 2017, following the humanitarian and political deterioration of the situation in Venezuela. Member states have reinforced the decision ever since.
The debate in Spain was elevated to the European level this week. On Tuesday (11 February) Spanish MEPs held a heated debate in the European Parliament over whether the EU should bring Spain to heel over the country’s violation of EU sanctions against Venezuela.
EU’s the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, former Spanish chief diplomat Josep Borrell, argued that the European Commission has no competence on the matter.
Borrell recalled that EU countries “are responsible in all cases for the implementation and the verification of sanctions adopted by the EU in their own jurisdictions” and therefore, it is their duty to investigate a possible breach of those.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]