Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow members of this House,
“The most perfect system of government is that which produces the greatest degree of happiness, social security and political stability.”
This was said by Venezuelan freedom fighter Simón Bolívar almost exactly 200 years ago to this day.
When it comes to happiness, social security and stability, today’s Venezuela could not be further away from these ideals. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are being trampled underfoot by Nicolás Maduro.
His regime, which cynically claims to be based on Bolívar’s ideals, has brought Venezuela to the brink.
• The state health care system has collapsed. In the world’s oil-richest country, people are dying from diseases such as measles and diphtheria.
• The IMF has forecast an inflation rate of 1.37 million percent this year. Eighty percent of households no longer have enough to eat on a regular basis. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 12 percent of people, including many infants and children, are suffering from malnutrition.
• Since 2014, over 12,500 people have been detained in connection with anti-government protests. Deadly violence against demonstrators is a daily occurrence, be it through the security forces or militia affiliated with the government. The United Nations said yesterday that there have been 40 fatalities and 850 detentions since the beginning of the latest protests alone.
In this situation, ladies and gentlemen, one cannot remain neutral. And nor are we neutral. We are on the side of the people of Venezuela and their right to live in freedom and dignity.
The conditions in Venezuela are unbearable. They are all the more horrifying in a country that used to be one of the most affluent in Latin America. In the meantime, over three million Venezuelans have turned their backs on this misery and fled to neighbouring countries. According to the UN, 5000 people per day flee the country. The crisis in Venezuela has long since become a threat to the stability of the entire region.
No, we are not neutral here. We are on the side of Venezuela’s neighbouring countries, which have taken in and helped hundreds of thousands of people. We are not leaving them to cope with this on their own. Via German and international aid organisations, we are already helping refugees and host communities by providing water, medicine, shelter and food. And we will continue providing this support in 2019.
Above all else, we are concerned for the Venezuelan people, who are struggling simply to survive day in and day out. We are therefore looking for ways to get humanitarian assistance to people in Venezuela, and Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly, has indicated that he is open to this – in stark contrast to Nicolás Maduro.
This, too, shows that responsibility for Venezuela’s demise lies with the Government, which is ignoring the needs of its own people and eroding democratic institutions in order to hold on unscrupulously to power.
To put it clearly, Nicolás Maduro has no democratic legitimacy. He is not the democratically elected President of Venezuela, as last year’s so-called presidential elections did not by any means comply with democratic standards.
Hope of a fresh start is provided by the country’s only democratically mandated institution – the National Assembly and its President, Juan Guaidó. Along with the EU, we have therefore assured him of our political support. And that will not change.
In this context, it is particularly important to all of us in the European Union that all sides refrain from violence. Only a credible political process in line with the Venezuelan constitution promises a real solution. We say that to the parties in Caracas, but also to our international partners. This political process must proceed quickly via genuinely free and fair elections. Only in this way can the legitimacy of the Government, the rule of law and, most importantly, respect for Venezuelans’ dignity be restored.
Every day until then brings the country closer to the brink. Nicolás Maduro must therefore change course immediately and launch this process. Above all, he must do so credibly. If he does not do so – and in view of the experiences of the past, great scepticism is justified here – then what Federica Mogherini already announced on Saturday will apply. In line with Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, it will be up to Juan Guaidó to lead his country to fresh elections. This view is shared by an increasing number of countries and governments.
Against this backdrop, my dear colleagues, I will travel to Bucharest tomorrow, as will the other EU Foreign Ministers, to discuss the next steps to take. Our aim will be to support Venezuelans on the path to fresh elections and at the same time to prevent the situation from escalating further.
We are also liaising closely with other partners, above all Venezuela’s neighbouring countries and are united in our desire to finally put a stop to the suffering of the people in Venezuela.
For far too long, they have had to experience how their country has descended into ruin and violence. It is high time that Venezuelans had the chance to decide about their future fairly and freely, and they have our full support on that.
Thank you very much.