LIMA (Peru) • Foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada have said their governments will not accept Mr Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela's President when he is sworn in for a second six-year term this week.
The 14-member Lima Group - with the exception of Mexico - said last Friday it would not grant recognition to Mr 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 Mr Maduro's inauguration on Jan 10.
Mr Maduro was re-elected last 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," Mr 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 Lima Group, of which Canada is a member, said Mr 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," Mr 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 video conference, have agreed to encourage a coup d'etat", according to a statement read by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
The US, which is not a member of the group which was 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 move coincides with a statement from Venezuela's opposition-dominated but toothless National Assembly, which said it would not recognise the "illegitimate" Mr Maduro when he takes office.
Separately, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, Mr Luis Almagro, has called on Twitter for the international community not to recognise Mr Maduro.