Venezuela used an emergency UN Security Council meeting to buck demands made by foreign powers to make changes to its leadership, including an eight-day deadline to plan for new polls.
European countries including Germany, France and Spain gave Venezuela eight days to announce fresh elections before they would decide to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.
Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, has refused to step down after disputed elections last year, despite building pressure from the opposition in Venezuela as well as internationally.
But Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said Caracas will “continue following the path of our democracy.”
“Venezuela will not allow anyone to impose on us any decision or order,” Arreaza told the UN Security Council, adding that Caracas has “excellent friends” it can call on for support to defend itself.
Russian UN envoy Vassily Nebenzia called the deadline “absurd” in a back-and-forth with Germany’s UN ambassador Christoph Heusgen.
Britain and Belgium also voiced support for the European call for swift elections.
In the emergency meeting called by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he urged all nations to recognize Guaido as interim president, as Washington had. “Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo accused Russia and China of propping up Maduro’s government, while Russia’s Nebenzia accused Washington of seeking regime change and harked back to its previous interventions in Latin America.
Asked by Moscow’s envoy if Washington is willing to use military force in Venezuela, Pompeo said: “I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize what the US will do next.”
Much of the meeting showcased the divide between those countries who want to step back from interfering in Venezuela’s affairs, and those who see it as indisputable that the political crisis in the country will affect the peace and security of the region overall.
Peru stressed the impact of the “ongoing massive and historic exodus” from the country – more than half a million Venezuelans are in Peru, and more than 3 million people have fled in total due to food shortages and political unrest.
German envoy Heusgen criticized Russia for failing to mention the refugee exodus, which he said posed a “clear threat for international peace and security.”
The US, Albania and more than half a dozen Latin American nations have already thrown their support behind the opposition.
EU officials have stopped short of recognizing Guaido as interim president, instead calling for democratic elections.
Meanwhile other countries – including Russia, Iran, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua – have backed President Maduro.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets this week to demand Maduro’s resignation. He won a second term in May elections widely seen as undemocratic and was sworn in on January 10 amid mounting international pressure on him to step down.
The self-declared interim president says he has a “three-point” transition plan to put an end to Maduro’s rule.
“End of the usurping government, creation of an interim government, and calling for new elections,” the 35-year-old said in an interview with La Stampa paper published on Saturday.
Guaido called on the army to switch sides, dumping Maduro, and said even military officers involved in acts of repression would be granted amnesty.
On Saturday, the opposition was holding town hall meetings up and down the country to explain their moves, and on Sunday “small groups” are planning to visit army barracks to discuss options for an amnesty for Maduro, Guaido said.
Despite possessing the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela has been in economic and political crisis for years.