Czech government recognizes Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader

Juan Guaidó, photo: ČTK/AP/Fernando Llano

The Czech government has recognized Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela, as the legitimate leader of his country pending elections. The proposal was put forward by the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been advocating for the European Union to take a united stand.

Juan Guaidó,  photo: ČTK/AP/Fernando Llano
At last count, just over a dozen EU countries, including the Czech Republic, had recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, turning decisively against President Nicolás Maduro after he refused to call new elections.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told reporters on Monday, after an eight-day deadline set by EU members for the embattled president to act had expired, that the international community believes holding fresh elections in Venezuela is the best way forward.

“We expressed through a published statement our true regret that, despite repeated appeals by the international community, no steps have been taken in Venezuela to hold free democratic elections. Therefore, the government of the Czech Republic recognizes Juan Guaidó as an interim president, who should serve until Venezuela holds free democratic elections.”

Venezuela has been embroiled in economic and political crisis for several years, and several million have left the country. Despite hyperinflation and endemic corruption, Mr. Maduro easily won re-election last year in a vote that international observers said was clearly rigged.

Early last month, Venezuela’s National Assembly branded him an illegitimate “usurper”, and on January 23, Mr. Guaidó, the leader of that assembly, had himself sworn in as interim president. The following day, Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats) called on the EU to take a common position on whether to recognize Mr. Guaidó as legitimate leader – while signalling he favoured such a move.

“The presidential elections last year in Venezuela were far from transparent. The European Union already last year declared that they were not free democratic elections. In contrast, the National Assembly was elected in a legitimate way, and the body has legitimacy.”

Nicolás Maduro,  photo: ČTK/AP/Ariana Cubillos
The European Parliament on January 31 recognized Guaidó as interim president. Thus far, a dozen EU member states have done so. Efforts to gain unanimous EU support for a statement recognizing his legitimacy failed partly due to Italian and Greek objections, partly due to the reluctance of others to antagonise Russia and China, major creditor to Venezuela and supporters of Mr Maduro.

Ten EU countries have yet to announce their position. Some have issued statements of support for the democratic process or stopped just short of fully endorsing Mr Guaidó: for example Hungary, whose public diplomacy minister said on Monday his government no longer recognized Mr Maduro as president.

Among the millions who have fled Venezuela or are trying to are hundreds claiming Czech origin. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has so far received 240 applications by Venezuelan citizens seeking documentation confirming their Czech roots, making them eligible for repatriation.

Mr Petříček told reporters on Monday the Czech Republic and other EU states “hope to stabilise the situation in Venezuela” by holding peaceful elections and “to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.”