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article imageDiplomatic gatecrashers? UN sees dueling delegations from Venezuela

By Laura BONILLA (AFP)     Sep 29, 2019 in World

Virtually all countries sent diplomats to the United Nations for the General Assembly, but Venezuela was a special case -- it had two delegations, each dueling for recognition.

Neither President Nicolas Maduro nor opposition leader Juan Guaido -- who is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries including the United States -- came to New York for the world's biggest annual summit, but both had teams working the hallways.

Maduro's government, which is backed by Russia and China, retains the UN seat and Venezuela's official delegation was led by Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.

But Guaido's forces were also at the United Nations, including his foreign affairs chief, Julio Borges.

Julio Borges  Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's top diplomat  addresses a news confere...
Julio Borges, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's top diplomat, addresses a news conference in Colombia
Juan BARRETO, AFP/File

Guaido's representatives "go around the United Nations like ghosts," Arreaza told reporters.

"Nobody invited them," he said. "We have a word for them in Venezuela that is very clear -- gatecrashers. They are gatecrashers here."

Arreaza said that the opposition envoys managed to get into the UN headquarters by being accredited by other Latin American countries, which he called "the most absurd thing."

Rodriguez said that Maduro was legally the president. Guaido argues that he is the de jure president as he heads the elected National Assembly, which has rejected the legitimacy of a presidential vote last year that gave Maduro a new term and was widely alleged to have irregularities.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, while saying the world body had dialogue with both sides, had ruled out meeting Guaido's team.

Guaido's envoys were nonetheless able to keep a busy diplomatic schedule. They met with US President Donald Trump and representatives of more than 20 countries in Latin America.

Guaido's team was seeking more pressure including targeted sanctions to oust Maduro, who presides over a crumbling economy that has caused millions of people to flee.

- Hallway hustle -

Borges, Guaido's top diplomat, said there was a strong contrast between the reception of the two delegations.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza addreses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza addreses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
FABRICE COFFRINI, AFP/File

"Nobody wanted to receive them," Borges said of Maduro's representatives at a press conference at the Venezuelan consulate in New York -- which is a short walk from Venezuela's UN mission but administered by Guaido's team.

"In halls full of ministers and presidents, Arreaza was a sorry sight, chasing them and seeing if he could take furtive photos," Borges said as a handful of pro-Maduro demonstrators chanted outside the consulate.

He said that Arreaza's meetings involved nations that are "toxic" or ministers whom the foreign minister "ambushed" for photos he could post on social media.

On Twitter, Arreaza posted pictures or videos of himself meeting the presidents of Iran and Turkey, the prime minister of Pakistan, and the foreign ministers of China, Spain, The Netherlands, Uruguay, Belize, South Sudan and Nepal.

Spain's foreign minister, Josep Borrell, met with both sides. Spain has taken a leading role on Venezuela, and Borrell soon takes over as the European Union's foreign policy chief.

- Maduro consults Russia -

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the Kremlin
Sergei CHIRIKOV, POOL/AFP/File

Maduro himself traveled during the UN week to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin, who offers crucial support for his government.

And Diosdado Cabello -- president of the Constituent Assembly created by Maduro as a rival parliament but whose legitimacy is rejected by the opposition and Western powers -- visited North Korea.

North Korean state media said Cabello's delegation was "briefed on the brilliant revolutionary history of Kim Il Sung," the totalitarian regime's late founder, and visited sites including the Pyongyang Children's Foodstuff Factory.

The Maduro government has barred overseas travel by Guaido, who in April tried to lead a military mutiny that quickly fizzled out.

In one setback for Maduro during UN week, the European Union imposed sanctions on seven members of the security forces, on charges they tortured to death Rafael Acosta Arevalo, a military officer accused of plotting a coup.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva also voted to set up an independent mission to investigate alleged abuses in Venezuela.

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