After supporting Guaidó and coup opposition, Spain retreats
One of the countries that most provided support to the so-called “interim government” of Juan Guaidó, Spain decided to normalize its relations with Venezuela and returned to recognize the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. Spanish diplomat Ramón Santos Martínez handed over his diplomatic credentials to the Venezuelan president last Tuesday (24) and formalized his inauguration as the new ambassador of the European country.
The act ended a period of more than two years in which Madrid was left without a high-ranking diplomatic representative in Venezuela, maintaining its consular activities with only a chargé d’affaires.
The decision taken by the Venezuelan right at the end of December to end Guaidó’s fictitious position of “interim president” served as a motivation for Spain to leave the list of countries supporting the “interim” as opposed to the USA and the United Kingdom, which decided to maintain support for the opposition-controlled parallel National Assembly and go without recognizing Maduro.
To Brazil in Factthe Venezuelan political scientist William Serafino explains that the Spanish posture responds “to the new political reality of Venezuela”, in which Guaidó and his allies are increasingly weakened and isolated.
“Spain does not want to be left behind in the face of this new political framework, that is, evidently reality is bringing them back to Earth, so they were forced to recognize Maduro. Furthermore, unlike other countries, such as the United Kingdom and United States, it seems that Spain is looking for a form of interlocution, a form of acceptance before the government with a propositional act and not one of confrontation”, he says.
On Sunday (29), a group of opponents linked to Guaidó met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, José Manuel Albares, in Madrid. The purpose of the visit, according to one of the former Venezuelan deputies present at the meeting, was to ask the Spanish government not to normalize relations with Venezuela. Via Twitter, Albares confirmed the meeting and said that Spain will support dialogue between the government and the opposition.
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Serafino also highlights the way in which the Spanish government has recognized Maduro again, without a formal announcement or, at least, a foreign policy review statement.
“This decision happens as if it were something protocol, administrative, bureaucratic, because it is a way to reduce the political costs of a turn of this nature. That is, they ignored a legitimate president, joined a campaign of sanctions and cooperated for compliance of these sanctions, and now they treat it as if it were just an exchange of documents, a simple delivery of diplomatic credentials so that nobody notices that they are taking an abrupt turn in foreign policy”, he says.
Tension and rupture
The apparent appeasement attitude adopted by Madrid in recent weeks differs from the diplomatic and political tensions created in the last four years, since the country decided to recognize Guaidó’s “self-proclamation” as “president”, in January 2019. that same year, when in April the former deputy and then leader of the opposition led an attempted coup d’état.
With rebel troops from the Bolivarian National Guard who had joined the coup movement, Guaidó tried to take over the military air base of La Carlota, in the east of Caracas. In the first hours of the attempt, while loyalist and coup forces clashed, opposition leader Leopoldo López escaped house arrest and took to the streets alongside Guaidó to lead the coup attempt.
When the movement failed, López hid in the Spanish embassy with the consent of the then ambassador Jesús Silva. More than a year later, in October 2020, the opponent left Venezuela irregularly with Madrid as his final destination.
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At the time, the Venezuelan government accused Spain and its ambassador of being “active accomplices” in López’s escape. “The Kingdom of Spain is actively participating in the illegal escape of a dangerous criminal and decides to receive him in its territory, without observing international laws, including Spanish immigration laws and bilateral agreements on justice,” denounced the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry at that time. year.
As early as April 2021, the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor’s Office asked the country’s Supreme Court to initiate the process for the extradition of the opponent to the government of Spain. In May of the same year, the Venezuelan Justice formally asked the Spanish government to take measures to extradite López to the country. The process has been stalled ever since.
In Venezuela, Leopoldo López is considered a fugitive by Justice after serving only five of the 14 years in prison to which he was sentenced for his participation and organization of the so-called “guarimbas” in 2014, violent acts by right-wing supporters aimed at overthrowing the government. The acts left about 40 dead and some tactics used were invasions and fires to public buildings and headquarters of leftist parties.
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For William Serafino, it is unlikely that the recent rapprochement between Venezuela and Spain will end up facilitating the progress of the López extradition process, mainly due to the political costs that such a measure would bring to the Spanish government. Spain is due to hold regional and national elections later this year, and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is pressured by the possibility that right-wing and far-right parties form an alliance to defeat him at the polls.
“I don’t think that Sánchez, who in the end is the one who must make a decision in that sense, will risk facing those who are really interested in keeping the figure of Leopoldo, which would be the Popular Party. [de direita]o Vox [de extrema direita], [a governadora de Madri] Isabel Diaz Ayuso. The electoral projections in Spain are not good, so Sánchez does not have much room for political maneuver to cooperate judicially and hand over Leopoldo López, I think it would be a political fire, at least in the media, and it would do him a lot of harm in this pre-election context”, affirm.
If, on the one hand, the normalization of relations between Venezuela and Spain can be seen as a victory for the South American country’s diplomacy, on the other hand, economic interests can also explain the resumption of ties, especially at a time of energy crisis in Western Europe due to to the war in Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the West has been giving positive signals in the sense of reintegrating Venezuela into the spaces of global dialogue and trade, even citing the possibility of suspending sanctions to reinsert Venezuelan oil in the European market.
One of the first nods came precisely from the US, when it allowed, through a license, the Venezuelan state-owned PDVSA to supply oil to the Spanish Repsol again, but only as part of the payment of the debt it owes the European company. The deals were short-lived, as PDVSA insists that the exchange of heavy oil for fuels and derivatives would be more advantageous.
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For Miguel Jaimes, doctor in oil geopolitics, the conditions for Venezuelan energy production to be reintegrated into western markets are increasingly favourable, especially given the urgency experienced by Europe. “In politics there are no good and bad, there are interests, which can be economic and, in this case, oil companies. It is interesting for Venezuela to open up a range of options with other countries and vice versa, so I believe it is right that countries Europeans want to be closer to the countries that supply oil”, says the Brazil in Fact.
The return of Chevron’s operations in Venezuela, provided by the US through a new license within its sanctions policy, marks the first return of a large western company to the country. In an interview with Bloomberg, Pierre Breber, financial director of the energy giant, said that since November, when the company received the permission, the mixed plants in which it operates together with PDVSA have increased the production of heavy oil by 80%, reaching the 90 thousand barrels a day.
With the precedent of Chevron, the Venezuelan government is hopeful that it can reach similar agreements to attract other foreign companies, such as the Spanish Repsol. For Jaimes, Madrid has the potential to be an ally in this wave of foreign companies returning to Venezuela.
“In my opinion, Spain is one of the countries that is carrying out the deepest relations and the most strategic moves with Venezuela. That is why we can assume, in a very clear and precise way, that Spain will play an important role in our country and, inserted in that, its oil company, which is, deep down, what the government of Spain is interested in tying up at this moment”, he says.
Editing: Thales Schmidt