Latin American countries say won't recognise Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela's president

Nicolas Maduro was re-elected on May 20 in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community. PHOTO: REUTERS

LIMA (AFP) - Foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada said on Friday (Jan 4) their governments would not accept Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela's president when he is sworn in for a second six-year term next week.

The 14-member Lima Group - with the exception of Mexico - said it would not grant recognition to Maduro's hardline socialist government, after meeting in the Peruvian capital to discuss ways to step up international pressure on the regime, which has presided over the oil-rich country's economic collapse.

Peru's Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said the group had delivered "a strong political message" ahead of Maduro's inauguration on Jan 10.

Maduro was re-elected on May 20 in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States which called it a "sham".

"The main message is undoubtedly the non-recognition of the Venezuelan regime's new term," Popolizio told reporters.

"It is very important that the Lima Group has issued this statement to continue exerting pressure with a view to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela," the Peruvian minister said.

The Group, of which Canada is a member, said Maduro should temporarily transfer power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until free elections can be held.

"Nicolas Maduro is urged not to assume the presidency, to respect the powers of the assembly and to temporarily transfer power until new elections are held," Popolizio said.

Venezuela hit back at the Lima Group, accusing it of fomenting a coup at the behest of the US, which has sanctioned Venezuelan officials and entities.

Caracas expressed its "great bewilderment at the extravagant declaration of a group of countries of the American continent which, after receiving instructions from the United States through a videoconference, have agreed to encourage a coup d'etat," according to a statement read by Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza.

The United States, which is not a member of the group created after deadly anti-Maduro protests in 2017, participated in the meeting for the first time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented by video conference from Washington.

The arrival in power of a new far-right government in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro is likely to harden regional opposition to Maduro.

Bolsonaro, who has aligned himself with Washington by expressing hostility towards "authoritarian regimes", said on Thursday he was open to discussing his country's becoming home to a US military base "in the future".

Venezuela recently hosted the Russian Air Force, including long-range nuclear bombers, for joint military exercises - a move that stoked regional tensions.

Cutting diplomatic ties

The Lima Group action coincides with a statement from Venezuela's opposition-dominated but toothless National Assembly, which said it would not recognise the "illegitimate" Maduro when he takes office.

"We are facing a man who stole an election. We will not have more than a usurper (as president). Neither Venezuelans nor foreigners can recognise Maduro as president," opposition deputy Delsa Solorzano told AFP.

Separately, the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, called on Twitter for the international community not to recognise Maduro.

Maduro, who was handpicked by Socialist president Hugo Chavez to succeed him when he died in 2013, was re-elected in May after early elections called by the Constituent Assembly, a body created by Maduro which has in practice replaced the legislature.

The Lima Group statement reiterated its support for the National Assembly, which it recognises as Venezuela's "constitutionally elected body". Washington has recently stepped up contacts with South American states dealing with the influx of migrants - around one million to Colombia alone - from Venezuela's worsening economic crisis.

Pompeo was in Cartagena earlier this week for talks with Colombian President Ivan Duque. Both officials have denounced Maduro's "dictatorship" and agreed to step up efforts to isolate his government diplomatically.

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