Leftist Eurodeputies have opposed the move, calling the South American country’s opposition violent and anti-democratic.
The European Parliament honored Venezuela’s right-wing opposition with its prestigious Sakharov human rights prize during a ceremony in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
National Assembly (AN) President Julio Borges received the award on behalf of the opposition-controlled legislature and the country’s so-called “political prisoners”, to whom the prize was dedicated.
“In the next few months, there should be a presidential election and we ask Europe and the free world to pay full attention,” he said in remarks during the ceremony.
Borges further accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of having “kidnapped democracy, and installed hunger and misery.”
The AN president’s visit to Strasbourg comes just days after the government’s landslide victory in December 10 municipal elections, which were boycotted by the largest opposition parties, including Borges’ own First Justice party. The main opposition coalition, the MUD, has been wracked by internecine strife since its surprise defeat in October 15 regional elections that saw the ruling socialist party take 18 of 23 governorships.
Speaking at the ceremony, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said the nomination of the Venezuelan opposition was in keeping with the EU’s commitment to defending democracy.
“By awarding this prize, we defend the constitutions, the institutions, the separation of powers. And that’s the basis of democracy,” he declared.
The move has, however, sparked a backlash from parliamentarians on the left-wing of the EU legislature.
“The decision of the presidency of the European Parliament to grant the prize to extremists of the Venezuelan opposition – despite criticisms from various Eurodeputies – is cynical and scandalous,” said German Left Party (Die Linke) Vice President Heinke Haensel, referring to Borges’ and other opposition leaders’ support for four months of violent anti-government protests that left over 125 dead earlier this year.
Spain’s United Left (IU), for its part, led a boycott of the ceremony, accusing the EU Parliament of “putting itself on the side of violence in Venezuela instead of facilitating dialogue”.
“The people receiving the prize today embody a violent opposition that since 2002 has sought to overthrow governments democratically elected by the Venezuelan people with coups,” the party said in a statement.
Additionally, IU slammed the parliament for passing over finalist Lolita Chavez – a Guatemalan indigenous Ki’che leader whose organization has been targeted by paramilitary groups – in order to give the award to Venezuelan opposition figures like Lorent Saleh, who “was jailed in relation to paramilitarism in Colombia”.
“This year there are people who have not received the prize and fight precisely against what the people who are going to receive it represent,” the leftist party concluded.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was established in 1988 in honor of Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. The prize is presented annually and past recipients include Nelson Mandela, the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and Pakistani feminist Malala Yousafzai.
The European Parliament’s decision to give the prize to the Venezuelan opposition has been taken as one more indication of the EU’s increasingly hardline stance vis-à-vis Caracas.
While the European Union has yet to follow the US and Canada in approving sanctions against Venezuela, last month it moved to slap the South American country with an arms embargo.
The move was criticized by Noam Chomsky and other leading public intellectuals as hypocritical given the EU’s extensive military contracts with Saudi Arabia and other regimes with highly dubious human rights records.
“The idea of imposing an arms embargo on Venezuela while refusing to impose one on Saudi Arabia is beyond parody, not least because of Saudi Arabia’s murderous assault on Yemen, which has created one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world,” he told Reuters at the time.
Top photo | Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez holds a Venezuelan national flag as he greets a group of opposition protesters outside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, July 8, 2017. (AP/Fernando Llano)