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Britain recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's president in gold dispute, judge rules

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president, the English High Court ruled on Thursday, in a case over whether Guaido or Nicolas Maduro should control $1 billion of its gold stored in London.

A four-day hearing last week had been the latest part of a tug-of-war over the gold reserves held in the Bank of England and centered on which of the two rival presidents Britain now views as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

In early 2019, the British government joined dozens of nations in backing Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, after he declared an interim presidency and denounced Maduro as an usurper who secured a fraudulent re-election.

High Court judge Nigel Teare handed down a judgment ruling that Britain had “unequivocally” recognized Guaido as constitutional interim president. Teare based his decision on the so-called “one voice” doctrine, in which the court must accept as conclusive an unequivocal statement by the British government recognizing the leader of a foreign nation.

“The judiciary and the executive must speak with one voice” Teare said. “There cannot be two Presidents of Venezuela.”

Maduro’s legal team has said his central bank (BCV) wants to sell the gold to fund Venezuela’s response to the coronavirus. His central bank filed a suit against the Bank of England in May claiming it had barred access to Venezuela’s gold reserves.

Sarosh Zaiwalla, one of the lawyers representing the Maduro camp, said on Thursday that the BCV would be seeking leave of the court to appeal the judgment.

The BCV on Twitter called the decision “absurd” for depriving Venezuela “of the gold it urgently needs to confront the pandemic”.

If the BCV’s appeal is granted the accelerated pace of the case means it could go to the London Court of Appeal in the coming weeks. If that appeal were to prove successful it would then go up the Supreme Court.

The opposition alleges Maduro wants to use the gold to pay off his foreign allies, which his lawyers have denied. Over the past two years, Maduro’s government has removed some 30 tonnes from its reserves in Venezuela to sell abroad for much-needed hard currency.

“We have secured the gold for the future of the Venezuelan people,” Guaido’s ambassador in Britain, Vanessa Neumann, told Reuters.

A member of Guaido’s legal team said they now expect the court to determine whether Guaido has the authority to represent Venezuela’s central bank in another legal case to decide control over the gold itself.

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Venezuela to boost number of legislators in National Assembly in 2021

(Reuters) – Venezuela will boost the number of seats in its National Assembly by two-thirds to 277 for the 2021-2026 period, the head of the country’s electoral authority said, ahead of an election the opposition says President Nicolas Maduro is trying to rig.

Indira Alfonzo, who was named chief of the National Electoral Council (CNE) by the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court earlier this month, said on state television the increase was necessary due to a surge in the number of political parties slated to participate in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

The legislature currently has 167 legislators, and the increase to 277 will go into effect with the next parliament.

The opposition has criticized the Supreme Court’s naming of Alfonzo and four other new CNE members, as well as a court ruling ousting the leaders of two key opposition parties and replacing them with politicians accused of being shadow allies of the ruling Socialist Party, as evidence the elections will not be fair.

The parliamentary elections are due by the end of the year, but the CNE has not yet announced an exact date. The opposition has held a majority in the congress for the previous five-year period.

Any loss of control of the parliament would complicate the standing of National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by dozens of Western countries as a result of his position. Guaido and allies accuse Maduro of rigging his 2018 re-election.

Maduro has overseen an economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation, triggering a humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of Venezuelans emigrate from the country.

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Guyana asks World Court to confirm border with Venezuela

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Guyana on Tuesday asked the World Court to confirm the demarcation of its land border with Venezuela, part of a long-running dispute between the South American neighbours with potential implications for offshore oil rights.

Representatives of Guyana asked judges at the United Nations court, formally known as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to confirm that the border was laid down in an 1899 arbitration between Venezuela and the then-colony of British Guiana.

“We are here today because contrary to international law and to the biding award of 1899, our neighbour to the west (Venezuela), has cultivated a nationalist passion to…lay claim to almost three quarters of Guyana,” Guyana’s representative before the court, Shridath Ramphal, told judges.

Venezuela did not respond as it is not participating in the proceedings. It argues the ICJ does not have jurisdiction.

The dispute over the territory – a massive, sparsely populated area west of Guyana’s Essequibo River – was revived in recent years after oil was discovered offshore.

In 2018, Venezuela’s navy intercepted an Exxon ship exploring for oil on behalf of Guyana in waters that are jointly claimed by the two countries.

The ICJ is the United Nation’s court for resolving disputes between states.

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Venezuela tells EU ambassador to leave country

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the European Union’s ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours.

Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa’s expulsion came hours after the EU placed sanctions on 11 Venezuelan officials.

They were sanctioned for acting against the national assembly headed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Mr Guaidó declared himself interim president last year but has failed to remove Mr Maduro.

The opposition leader has the backing of the EU and the US.

In his announcement on Monday broadcast on state television, speaking of the EU, Mr Maduro said: “If they can’t respect Venezuela, then they should leave it.”

He added: “A plane can be loaned for her [Pedrosa] to leave.” Venezuela’s air space is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier on Monday, the European Council said the 11 officials were added to the sanctions list “because of their role in acts and decisions undermining democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela”.

There are now 36 Venezuelan officials who have been placed under EU sanctions, it said.

Those newly-added to the list include Luis Parra, who in January declared that he, not Mr Guaidó, was the rightful Speaker of the assembly.

Mr Guaidó declared himself interim president last year, arguing that Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. His position at the head of the opposition-led National Assembly was the basis of his claim to be Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.

He is recognised as such by more than 50 countries, including the US, the UK and most in Latin America and the EU

Speaking on Monday, Mr Maduro said the EU “recognises a puppet as president”.

Some four million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to the United Nations, amid a severe years-long political and economic crisis. The oil-rich country suffers from high unemployment and shortages of food and medicine, and hundreds of thousands of people are said to be in need of humanitarian aid.

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Maduro gives EU ambassador 72 hours to leave Venezuela

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on Monday (June 29) gave the head of the European Union mission in Caracas, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, 72 hours to leave the country after the bloc announced sanctions against 11 Venezuelan officials.

“Who are they to try to impose themselves with threats?” said Maduro.

“We will sort it out in 72 hours… she will be given a plane to leave, but we will arrange our things with the European Union.” Venezuela’s airspace is currently closed to commercial airplanes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Relations have been tense since 2017 when Venezuela became the first Latin American country to receive sanctions from the EU, including an arms embargo.

Among the officials sanctioned on Monday was opposition legislator Luis Parra, who backed by Maduro is contesting the leadership of the opposition controlled National Assembly with its president Juan Guaido.

Guaido used his position as head of parliament to challenge Maduro’s authority in January 2019 by declaring himself acting president after the National Assembly deemed the socialist leader a usurper over his controversial re-election in 2018 in a poll widely branded fraudulent.

Guaido is recognised as his country’s interim president by more than 50 nations, including the United States and much of the European Union.

Parra, though, declared himself National Assembly president in January while security forces loyal to Maduro prevented Guaido from entering the building for a re-election vote he was widely expected to win.

Initially allies, Parra fell out with Guaido after he was linked to a corruption scandal relating to a food distribution program,e run by Maduro’s government.

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Venezuela's Maduro joins hands with Guaido in fight against virus

President Maduro and his bitter rival Guaido agree to coordinate efforts to raise funds to help combat the pandemic.

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido have reached an agreement to cooperate to raise funds for the fight against the coronavirus. 

The one-page agreement was signed on June 1 between Health Minister Carlos Alvarado, Dr Julio Castro, who leads the National Assembly’s commission on the coronavirus, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Tuesday.

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The parties will seek funds to cover a range of responses from improving testing, acquiring more protective gear and launching public health messaging campaigns, among others, Rodriguez added.

“COVID-19 does not respect or discriminate against gender, orientation or political party,” Rodriguez said on state television on Tuesday night. “So this is good news, a good start, so that we can deepen our work together to combat COVID-19.”

Guaido’s communications team also said a “technical cooperation plan to deal with the humanitarian coronavirus crisis” was signed.

Luego de meses de insistencia y lucha, logramos que la OPS reciba la donación aprobada por la AN para atender la pandemia en Venezuela.

Nuestra política se centra en salvar vidas, en atender la emergencia y salir de la dictadura.

Urge el Gobierno de Emergencia Nacional.

Translation: After months of insistence and struggle, we [finally] managed to get PAHO to receive the donations approved by the National Assembly to address the pandemic in Venezuela. Our policy is focused on saving lives, attending to the emergency and getting out of the dictatorship. 

The two sides have so far not confirmed the details of the plan.

In a statement, however, Guaido’s team said PAHO would receive the funds approved for humanitarian aid.

Separately, Washington welcomed the coronavirus agreement.

“It is an important step, but only democratic transition will save Venezuela from catastrophe,” the closed US embassy in Caracas posted on Twitter.

Gobierno Interino de @JGuaido firmó acuerdo con la OPS de asociación coordinada con el régimen para enfrentar el #COVID19, priorizando necesidades urgentes de atención médica de venezolanos. Es un paso importante, pero solo transición democrática salvará Venezuela de catástrofe

Translation: Interim Government of @JGuaido signed an agreement with PAHO for a coordinated association with the regime to combat #COVID19, prioritising urgent medical care needs for Venezuelans. It is an important step, but only democratic transition will save Venezuela from catastrophe

The White House has imposed financial sanctions on the country to press for Maduro’s departure.

Venezuela officially has 1,819 reported COVID-19 cases and 18 related deaths but international organisations such as Human Rights Watch believe this is an underestimate and the real toll is much higher.

The pandemic hit Venezuela when the country was already reeling from a serious economic crisis, hyperinflation and a collapse of public services. 

The country has the largest oil reserves in the world, but its production is in freefall, a collapse that experts attribute to failed policies, lack of investment, and corruption.

The economic meltdown has seen about five million Venezuelans flee the country since 2015, according to the United Nations.

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