The European Union has announced that it no longer considers Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido interim president of the Latin American country, describing him as a "privileged interlocutor."
The EU's 27 member states made the announcement in a joint statement on Monday, following a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in the Belgian capital of Brussels.
The statement further considered Guaido part of the democratic opposition in the country, despite a recent European Parliament's resolution for EU governments to maintain Guaido's position as head of state.
"The EU repeats its calls for... the freedom and safety of all political opponents, in particular representatives of the opposition parties elected to the National Assembly of 2015, and especially Juan Guaido," the statement said.
The announcement came following an earlier decision by the EU to downgrade Guaido’s status.
On January 6, the bloc’s member states said the EU can no longer legally recognize Guaido as the country’s legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December.
The decision came despite the EU not recognizing the result of that vote that was held on December 6, 2020.
A total of 256 of the National Assembly’s 277 seats are now in the hands of President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party and its allies following the legislative elections, which were boycotted by the Guaido-led opposition, who claimed fraud without evidence.
The chamber, which has a five-year mandate, was previously controlled by an opposition majority, with Guaido as its speaker since 2019.
Guaido, now officially out of a job, has plans to maintain a parallel parliament of shadow opposition lawmakers, vowing a “diplomatic offensive” to ensure that as many countries as possible would avoid recognizing the socialist-held congress, further calling on his supporters to take to the streets.
Last week, Guaido thanked the European Parliament for recognizing him as president of Venezuela's National Assembly, arguing that the 2020 parliamentary elections were fraudulent.
The EU, however, stopped referring to Guaido as Venezuela's "acting president" after his self-declared mandate expired on January 5. His recognition as “interim president” was based on his position as head of the National Assembly.
Guaido is still seen by the United States and Britain as Venezuela's rightful leader.
The status of interim president gives Guaido access to funds confiscated from Maduro by Western governments, as well as affording him access to top officials and supporting his opposition movement domestically and internationally.
Venezuela descended into political turmoil after Guido unilaterally declared himself “interim president” in January last year, followed by an abortive coup against the elected government of Maduro. There was also an attempt at assassinating Maduro in a drone strike in 2018.
Guaido’s self-proclamation and his coup attempt received backing from the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
Ever since, Washington has imposed several rounds of crippling sanctions against the oil-rich Latin American country aimed at ousting Maduro and replacing him with Guaido.
The sanctions, which include the illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets abroad and an economic blockade, have caused enormous suffering for millions of people in the country.