Venezuela always sets off ripples across Spanish politics, and the current crisis is summoning a real storm.
Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado considered the statement belated, lacking in commitment and weak.
Right after Juan Guaidó took his oath as caretaker president, both Spain’s liberal opposition -Ciudadanos- and the conservatives -Partido Popular- expressed their unequivocal support for the leader of the National Assembly. The far left -Podemos and Izquierda unida- called what happened a “coup d’État.”
The socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez chose to wait a few hours until there was a common position in the European Union, a complicated and slow-moving consortium of 28 countries each with its own points of view. While they waited, Sánchez spoke on the phone with Guaidó and recognized the legitimacy of the National Assembly, but not of him as president. Yesterday, at last, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell expressed the Spanish position, which is also the European stance: if Maduro doesn’t call for elections next week, Guaidó will be recognized as legitimate president.
Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado considered the statement belated, lacking in commitment and weak, and he didn’t spare his adjectives: “It’s regrettable that we have a spineless Government Prime Minister who doesn’t support Venezuela’s freedom. Spain should lead the action in Europe against Maduro. But his overlords at Podemos won’t let him.”
Pablo Iglesias, leader of the far-left Podemos party, said that “Trump and his allies” don’t care about democracy, only about oil, and urged Spain and Europe to “defend international legality, dialogue and peaceful mediation, not a coup d’État.” Another Podemos figure, Juan Carlos Monedero, who was an advisor to Hugo Chávez, said that “there’s a coup underway in Venezuela” supported by “coup-loving enemies of democracy.”
The main criticism of the Sánchez Government has been over his refusal to take a leadership role within the EU in this crisis, which many in Spain see as natural due to the close ties with the South American country: besides history, culture and the economy, there are some 200,000 Spanish citizens in Venezuela and over 250,000 Venezuelans in Spain. Th call is for leadership not so preoccupied with upholding the complicated common European position but rather on sending clear signals. For instance, it’s what French president Emmanuel Macron did, when he said that Europe “supports the reinstitution of democracy in Venezuela,” or the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, by denying Maduro’s legitimacy and recalling his fraudulent actions in the last elections.
The Executive felt uneasy, both due to the crossfire of the liberal and conservative opposition and the position of its Podemos allies, whose votes in parliament it needs to remain in office.
Foreign Minister Borrell, who regretted yesterday that Spain is “the only country in which what happens in Venezuela is national politics,“ got angry when a journalist asked him about whether the Government should’ve gotten out ahead of France and Germany. “We’re not bringing up the rear, the EU is.” The truth is that the Government reacted late and missed the opportunity to exercise leadership, to serve as a reference to other EU Governments; the justification was caution, necessary in Europe’s foreign policy, but that caution shouldn’t blur the equally necessary Spanish foreign policy, especially regarding Latin America in the European context. What’s also true is that the Executive felt uneasy, both due to the crossfire of the liberal and conservative opposition and the position of its Podemos allies, whose votes in parliament it needs to remain in office.
Just like the statements in favor of Guaidó made by European Parliament Speaker Antonio Tajani and European Council Chairman Donald Tusk were much more clear than those of the 28 members, former socialist Prime Minister Felipe González, who knows the Venezuelan keys better than most people in the international scenario (and who couldn’t be farther in his analysis from former Prime Minister Zapatero, a socialist himself) was also quite resolute. Guaidó “is the legitimate president” of Venezuela, said González, who asked the EU and “democratic” countries in America to recognize him. “No democrat, regardless of ideological stance or institutional responsibility, can accept Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.” Former conservative Prime Minister José María Aznar expressed the same opinion.
But the government’s misfortune doesn’t end there; its convoluted position is used by Maduro, who, in his usual violent tone against most Spanish political leaders, takes advantage of the situation to criticize Sánchez, who has a minority in Parliament because he rose to power barely eight months ago after a vote of no confidence who united the entire opposition and who seems decided, for the time being, not to go to polls.
For Maduro, that Government asking for elections in Venezuela “is an insolent, very insolent statement. If they want elections, let them hold elections in Spain, because [Sánchez] isn’t the Spanish Prime Minister because he was elected through any popular vote.”