France on Friday denied that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido had been given refuge at its mission in Caracas, after Venezuela’s foreign minister claimed he was hiding at the embassy.
“Mr Juan Guaido is not at the French residency in Caracas. We have confirmed this to the Venezuelan authorities several times,” ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.
France is among more than 50 countries that recognise Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, after the country’s opposition-controlled parliament branded President Nicolas Maduro a usurper over his 2018 re-election in a poll widely derided as rigged.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza had made the claim on Thursday, three days after Maduro hinted that his rival was “hiding” at a diplomatic location.
“We cannot enter the premises of any country’s embassy whatsoever, in this case Spain or France,” Arreaza said during a radio interview, adding that an arrest by force therefore “is not possible.”
He made the comments when asked by a journalist about Guaido’s supposed presence at the embassy, and another leading opposition figure, Leopoldo Lopez, at the Spanish ambassador’s residence, where he has remained for more than a year.
“We hope that these governments will change their mind… and deliver those who wish to escape Venezuelan justice,” Arreaza said.
Calling the situation “deeply irregular” he added: “It is a shame for Spain’s diplomacy, it is a shame for France’s diplomacy what has happened and it will take its toll very, very soon.”
On Monday Maduro hinted that Guaido was “hiding in an embassy” in a statement that the opposition leader immediately denied.
“They lie to you,” Guaido wrote on Twitter, adding that he was “with the people”.
Maduro and his administration have previously labelled Guaido a “fugitive from justice” although there is no known arrest warrant against him.
– ‘Free elections’ –
Diplomatic tensions between Paris and Caracas — already strained over the recognition of Guaido — have worsened further over the last months due to the treatment of the French ambassador.
Since early May, Venezuelan police have been guarding the street where he lives and water and electricity were cut off at the residence.
The French ministry spokeswoman said only free elections could pave the way for a solution to Venezuela’s crisis.
“All efforts must now focus on the search for a political solution to the Venezuelan political crisis,” she said.
“Only a democratic path and free, transparent and credible elections will allow it to be resolved in the long term and put an end to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”
Guaido in January defied a travel ban to visit Europe on a charm offensive to back his bid to oust Maduro, holding talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Guaido said afterwards that he had Macron’s “firm support”.
Lopez, meanwhile, has been at the Spanish ambassador’s residence since emerging from house arrest in April 2019 to join Guaido at a demonstration to try to incite a military uprising against Maduro, which never materialised.