BRUSSELS—The European Union will combine an international diplomatic offensive and fresh engagement with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as part of a two-pronged “pressure trap” to try and stem the growing crisis in Venezuela.
Officials in Brussels are mulling a new approach toward Caracas amid increasing alarm in Europe at the vast humanitarian catastrophe unveiling in the South American country.
The latest strategy is pushed by Spain, which has a recently elected a left-wing government and is now a major destination for millions of refugees fleeing spiraling poverty and violence.
- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attends a meeting with the U.N. secretary general Sept. 27, 2018, at the United Nations in New York. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
European capitals have targeted senior members of the Maduro regime with sanction measures including travel bans and asset freezes over systemic human rights abuses.
On Oct. 15, foreign ministers from the EU countries, who were meeting in Luxembourg, agreed to explore setting up new channels of dialogue with Caracas, but insisted the bloc’s tough approach will still stand.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the move was “not about changing politics and abandoning sanctions” but that “there cannot be a solution that includes military intervention.”
“It is not a change of policy, but to fine-tune it to see how the EU can do more than provide humanitarian aid. We cannot do miracles, but we cannot remain indifferent.”
Announcing the decision, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, said: “The EU is not looking at softening its position on Venezuela in any way.”
“On the other side we also believe that there can only be a democratic political solution to the current crisis in the country.”
European nations have been horrified by the actions of Maduro’s administration which has been accused of executing political opponents and imposing a reign of terror on the streets.
Many Venezuelans have been forced to flee the country, once one of South America’s richest, after inflation hit an astonishing 1.37 million percent, meaning people are physically incapable of carrying enough money to buy everyday products.
There are around a million EU citizens in Venezuela, many of whom are dual Spanish nationals. The EU has pledged $40 million to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
A senior EU diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said European leaders have explored the “genuine prospects for some kind of combination of outside pressure and engagement making a difference” and bringing about a solution to the crisis.
The diplomat said EU’s stance has had an “important pressure element” on the Maduro regime, and it wouldn’t be the right time to signal that the pressure is being lifted.
“We’re keen the pressure trap is not downplayed,” said the diplomat. “That said, there’s an urgent humanitarian migration dynamic to be raised.
“Politically, one has to not lose sight of the fact this is a man-made disaster. We need to be very supportive of the country and what remains of civil society in Venezuela.”