MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - European and Latin American leaders gathered on Thursday in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo to discuss a plan to solve the deepening crisis in Venezuela, while urging the global community to back away from direct intervention.
The EU-backed International Contact Group on Venezuela opened its inaugural meeting with calls for a more hands-off approach than that advocated by the United States and some other Latin American nations.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the group was pushing for a peaceful and political solution to the crisis, adding that a resolution must ultimately come from the people of Venezuela.
“This is not only the most desirable result but is the only result if we want to avoid more suffering and a chaotic process,” she said alongside Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez.
The Uruguay meeting comes on the heels of a separate meeting of the harder-line Lima Group in Canada, which called for international action to pressure socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.
An economic collapse under Maduro, marked by widespread shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation, has prompted some 3 million people to flee Venezuela and forced nations around the world to clarify their stance on the crisis, particularly after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month.
Maduro was re-elected to a new six-year term as president last May, but the election was widely condemned as a fraud.
A flood of EU nations including Germany, France and Britain have joined the United States, Canada and a group of Latin American countries in recognizing Guaido as the rightful interim ruler of the South American nation.
But others remain wary about direct involvement – including some participants at the ICG meeting.
On the eve of the meeting, Mexico, Uruguay and a grouping of Caribbean countries presented a plan for Venezuela, titled the “Montevideo Mechanism,” that proposes to find a peaceful solution that will prevent an “escalation of violence.”
“This is based on good faith, where we don’t intervene unless with dialogue, negotiation, communication and a willingness to contribute,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, told reporters in Montevideo on Wednesday, echoing comments made earlier this week.
Mexico was once an outspoken critic of Maduro. But ties with Venezuela have warmed under leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who invited Maduro to his inauguration last month.
Maduro, who retains the loyalty of Venezuela’s military, denounces Guaido as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup against him. Maduro is supported by China and Russia. Slovakia and Italy have also refused to recognize Guaido, defying EU and U.S. efforts to coordinate action on Venezuela.
Lined up behind the ICG are the EU and a number of member states including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Britain. Latin America members include Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay.
The ICG, launched late last month, has said its aim is to find a “political and peaceful process” within 90 days in which Venezuelans determine their own future through the holding of free, transparent and credible elections.
Some critics, however, say this stance could allow Maduro off the hook, even as pressure builds against him to step down.
Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Paul Simao