Foreign ministers of the Contact Group on Venezuela began meeting in Ecuador on Thursday in a push for progress on delivering humanitarian aid and laying the groundwork for presidential elections in the crisis-torn country.
The meeting of European and Latin American ministers comes amid increased tension after Russia sent troops and equipment to Caracas to bolster President Nicolas Maduro, angering the United States.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated her “firm rejection of the use of force to address the current crisis” and called for “the full restoration of the democratic constitutional order and the rule of law.”
She told the opening of the meeting at Ecuador’s foreign ministry that the group would continue working “to find a peaceful solution to the country’s crisis through free and credible elections.”
At their first session last month, the Contact Group set itself a 90-day deadline to create the conditions necessary to hold new elections in Venezuela and bring humanitarian aid into the country.
Maduro has rejected the notion of fresh elections and blocked delivery of humanitarian aid, dismissing it as a pretext for US military intervention.
The meeting “has a central objective and that is to seek, through the joint work of different countries in our region and in Europe, a way to facilitate an eventual, and we hope timely, exit from the crisis in Venezuela,” said Ecuador’s foreign minister Jose Valencia.
More than 50 nations have formally recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president, having declared Maduro’s leadership “illegitimate” since he secured a second six-year term in tainted elections last May.
The group includes eight European countries — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden — and four from Latin America — Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.
Moscow said Thursday its troops would stay in Venezuela “for as long as needed,” rejecting US President Donald Trump’s demand that Russia remove its military from the country.
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