US disconcerted at Spain’s apparent change of tack on Venezuela

Official calls PM Pedro Sánchez’s failure to meet with Juan Guaidó during the latter’s visit to Madrid “unfortunate”

Juan Guaidó at an event this week in Caracas.
Juan Guaidó at an event this week in Caracas.STRINGER (REUTERS)
Pablo Guimón

The Spanish government’s apparent change of position with regard to Venezuela has raised eyebrows in the United States, where officials used the terms “disappointment” and “discouraging” about Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s recent description of Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó as the “head of the opposition” rather than the “acting president.”

Guaidó declared himself the acting president of Venezuela in January 2019 after calling the 2018 elections illegitimate. US President Donald Trump recognized him immediately and dozens of countries followed suit, including Spain.

I don’t see Sánchez or Spain positioning themselves on the side of the dictatorship
Carlos Vecchio, Guaidó's chargé d'affaires

In November 2019 Spain held a general election that was won by Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), but he was forced into a coalition government with the leftist Unidas Podemos group. His Cabinet was sworn in on January 13.

When Guaidó visited Spain later that month as part of an international tour to drum up support for his cause, Sánchez was noticeably absent. The Venezuelan leader was instead received by Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, prompting speculation in the media about a change of tack.

Backed by Trump

During his recent visit to Washington DC at the close of his international trip, Guaidó had a long meeting with Trump and his aides at the White House. On February 4 he received a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, where he was a guest at the State of the Union address.

“There is going to be action in the coming days or weeks to increase pressure on the Maduro regime,” said Guaidó’s chargé d’affaires in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, in statements to EL PAÍS.

Vecchio said that in recent conversations with members of the US administration, he has seen “concern” about what they consider Europe’s insufficient involvement. These US officials also seemed puzzled at Madrid’s lack of leadership. “For obvious reasons, everyone expects Spain to lead this process,” said Vecchio.

Washington’s official reaction to the change of attitude in Spain has been low-key, and the US State Department has declined to comment.

But on February 7, the US Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said that the Venezuelan vice-president’s recent layover at the Madrid airport “seemed a violation of European sanctions,” adding that “we don’t understand what happened 100% [...] and what we’ve seen in the papers has been changing from day to day.”

The controversial meeting between Venezuela’s Delcy Rodríguez and Spain’s Public Works Minister José Luis Ábalos inside an aircraft was described as “disappointing” and “discouraging” by Joe Piechowski, a deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department. “The US also has questions about this alleged meeting.”


On February 6, Special Representative Abrams noted the fact that Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez did not personally receive Guaidó when the latter stopped in Madrid.

“We think it’s unfortunate that Sánchez did not agree to meet with Guaidó. We have received a number of assurances that Spain’s commitment to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela remains firm,” he said at a briefing.

Guaidó’s team is equally cautious. “What the government of Spain has officially said, and the minister has said it directly, is that they continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as the interim president and president of the National Assembly,” said Vecchio, the chargé d’affaires.

We have received a number of assurances that Spain’s commitment to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela remains firm
Special Representative Elliott Abrams

“We kept the contacts with the Sánchez government, with the person that he designated, and we reaffirmed that for us, Spain has to play a key role within Europe,” added Vecchio. “I hope, and there is no reason for me to doubt it, that Pedro Sánchez is on the side of defending human rights. I don’t see Sánchez or Spain positioning themselves on the side of the dictatorship.”

“When Guaidó came to Madrid, we met with the minister and she ratified that the policy had not changed one bit,” said Antonio Ecarri, Guaidó’s representative in Madrid. “When we seemed a little uncertain about the coalition government, we were told that international policy fell outside the agreement signed with Podemos and the other groups. We don’t have a different official version.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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