In a stark departure from its allies, the New Zealand government is refusing to take sides in the escalating Venezuelan leadership crisis, declining to give official recognition to either leader.
Opposition leader and Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido last week declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, and quickly won the support of the US, the UK, Canada and some Latin American countries, who issued strong public statements recognizing his authority.
On Monday, New Zealand’s closest neighbor, Australia, recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also urged countries to “pick a side” in the crisis.
Oil-rich Venezuela is wracked with hyperinflation, rendering the currency practically worthless. Shortages in food staples and basic medicines are rampant, and crime is widespread. More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled.
However, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has refused to add New Zealand’s name to the list backing Guaido.
“It is not New Zealand’s practice to make statements of recognition of governments,” Peters said. “Venezuela needs to decide its future through free and fair elections. This government expressed concerns about Venezuela’s elections in 2018, and these concerns remain.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern later justified her stance, saying that on her recent trip to Europe “absolutely no one expressed concern” that New Zealand’s decision differed from that of its allies.
“What we do do as a country, and rightly so, is call out human rights abuses. It is absolutely clear that people are suffering under the current regime and that they deserve access to their democratic rights and freedoms,” Ardern said.
Maduro retains the support of Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia and Turkey, and still has the backing of the military, although his defense attache to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington defected to Guaido on Saturday.
Peters in May last year said he was “extremely concerned” about “the continuing erosion of democratic norms and institutions” in the country following the presidential elections, including widespread reports of election irregularities and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s banning of the main opposition leaders from participating in the poll.
At the time, Peters, who is also deputy prime minister, said that New Zealand supported “any regional and international efforts to facilitate a national dialogue in Venezuela that would allow truly free and fair elections to be held.”
“It is essential that the Venezuelan government respects democratic norms and institutions and protects the human rights of its citizens. This includes releasing all political prisoners,” Peters said.
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