CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Monday ordered the European Union’s ambassador to leave the country, hours after the bloc that’s pushing for a democratic transition hit several officials loyal to the socialist leader with sanctions.
Maduro’s order, given in an address on state television, follows stiff financial measures imposed by the EU against 11 Venezuelans, including Luis Parra, who heads a National Assembly rival to the one headed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
The measures brought to 36 the total number of Venezuelan officials under European sanctions, which include a travel ban and it freezes asset. EU officials said in a statement the sanctions target individuals and do not affect the population in general.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is loyal to Maduro, earlier this month created a new elections commission ahead of parliamentary voting expected this year. Critics say the commission is stacked with members loyal to the president. The court also stripped two popular opposition parties of their leadership boards, replacing them with their own political leaders.
European leaders said they will “continue working to foster a peaceful democratic solution in Venezuela, through inclusive and credible legislative elections.”
While scolding EU officials for backing Guaidó, Maduro even offered to help the European delegation find a flight out of Venezuela amid the coronavirus pandemic that’s grounded most air travel.
Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, who heads the European Union delegation in Venezuela, did not immediately respond. Maduro gave the ambassador 72 hours to leave Venezuela.
“If they can’t respect Venezuela, then they should leave it,” said Maduro, rejecting the European leaders’ endorsement of Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. “They recognize a puppet as president.”
Venezuela is a once-wealthy oil nation experiencing a declining economic and political crisis that’s driven roughly 5 million people from the country amid shortages of basic goods, soaring inflation and broken hospitals.
While the United States has led the push to oust Maduro with sanctions, leaders in Europe and Canada have also thrown their support behind Guaidó, in a coalition of nearly 60 nations. However, Maduro remains in power with control over the military and international support from allies including China, Russia, Iran and Cuba.