EU declares head of Venezuela’s diplomatic mission ‘persona non grata’ in tit-for-tat after expulsion of European envoy

The European Union has declared Venezuela’s chief diplomat at the bloc “persona non grata,” calling the move retaliation after Caracas expelled the EU’s ambassador in protest over a new round of sanctions from Brussels.

“The Council today agreed that the head of the Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the European Union be declared persona non grata,” the European Council said in a statement on Thursday, adding “this is a response to the decision by the Venezuelan government to declare the head of the EU delegation to Venezuela as persona non grata.”

The EU considers this declaration as wholly unwarranted and contrary to the EU's objective of developing relations and building partnerships in third countries.

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The blacklisting of the envoy, Claudia Salerno Caldera, comes after EU ministers agreed to slap sanctions on 19 Venezuelan officials on Monday, accusing them of “undermining democracy” during a recent election. Lawmakers in Caracas responded with a vote to expel EU Ambassador Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa on Tuesday, giving her 72 hours to leave the country while stripping her of diplomatic status in their own “persona non grata” designation.

The EU vocally objected to the move, with European Commission foreign policy spokesperson Nabila Massrali insisting it be reversed. That demand was echoed by Germany’s Foreign office on Thursday, accusing the Nicolas Maduro government of shutting down “important channels of communication” just hours before the EU responded in kind.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza rebuffed the charge, saying dialogue with Caracas could resume once Brussels ceased its “coercive measures, the systematic interferences in internal affairs, the undermining of sovereign institutions and the EU (Germany) support for those planning coups and violence.”

The European Union has long supported Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, and for a time considered him the country’s “interim president.” Alongside opposition ally Leopoldo Lopez, Guaido spearheaded a failed coup attempt in April 2019, hailed at the time by the European Parliament president as “a historic moment for the return to democracy and freedom in Venezuela.” The uprising failed to inspire mass defections in the security forces and fizzled after a little more than a day.

The EU, the US and some South American states have refused to accept the results of Venezuela’s December 2020 legislative election, which saw Maduro take majority control of parliament amid an opposition boycott. Brussels aimed to punish top officials – among them supreme court judges, generals and politicians – for their role in the election process with Monday’s sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans. The EU’s sanction blacklist now includes 55 Venezuelan officials.

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