September 27, 2019 / 9:31 PM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 1-Venezuela opposition leaves U.N. with 'gestures of support' but no breakthrough

(Adds quote from Venezuelan vice president at General Assembly)

By Luc Cohen

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - During their week representing Venezuelan congress chief Juan Guaido at the U.N. General Assembly, an opposition delegation received words of support from U.S. President Donald Trump, funding from the United States, and pledges of stronger action from Latin American and European countries.

But Guaido's chief diplomat, Julio Borges, expressed frustration on Friday that the European Union had not done more to match Washington's tough stance, arguing its lack of tougher sanctions allowed officials in President Nicolas Maduro's government to keep their families and stolen assets safe.

"We cannot allow Spain to be a paradise for Maduro's bagmen," Borges told reporters. "We cannot allow Europe to be a sanctuary for the relatives of those who torture us and steal from us to hide."

The weeklong annual gathering of world leaders ended without a major breakthrough in the opposition's stalled eight-month struggle to oust Maduro, a socialist who has overseen an economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation and is accused of corruption and human rights violations.

The opposition had been hoping the EU would implement wider sanctions on members of Maduro's government following the collapse earlier this month of a round of negotiations, mediated by Norway's foreign ministry, aimed at resolving the South American country's deep political crisis.

On Friday, the EU slapped sanctions on seven security and intelligence officers, and threatened to impose more to help "foster such a negotiated transition."

"More is needed," Borges said. "We need to increase pressure on people in the military and political hierarchies, and Maduro's inner circle, so that they know they will not go unpunished."

Guaido in January invoked Venezuela's constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro rigged a 2018 presidential election. He has been recognized by most Western countries, including the United States, as the rightful leader.

Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.

Venezuelan Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, speaking before the General Assembly on Friday, called Guaido an "artifice" of the United States, and criticized U.S. sanctions on the country. Maduro did not travel to New York for the event.

Washington in January slapped sanctions on state oil company PDVSA, effectively preventing exports of Venezuelan crude to the United States and cutting off the government from its main source of revenue.

"There is a new type of state terrorism being imposed on the world's peoples," Rodriguez said, arguing that U.S. sanctions had cost Venezuela $130 billion between 2015 and 2018. "The Treasury Department, the economic Pentagon, is militarizing international relations and punishing millions of people."

POLITICAL STALEMATE

In signs of continued support, Trump thanked Latin American countries that recognized Guaido during a meeting on Wednesday. The administration also provided Guaido with $52 million in funding, barred travel to the United States by more Maduro officials, and placed additional sanctions on Cuba, one of Maduro's main international allies.

Latin American countries also agreed to explore their own sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government, but stopped short of implementing specific measures or endorsing Borges' request that they sanction Cuba. Many of Guaido's allies maintain cordial ties with the communist Caribbean country.

"We had multiple gestures of support for Guaido. ... That's part of his strategy, but I don't see it necessarily changing the equilibrium in terms of the political stalemate," said Risa Grais-Targow, director for Latin America at the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based consultancy.

The United Nations Human Rights Council also agreed on Friday to set up an international fact-finding mission to document rights violations in Venezuela. U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said in a July report that Venezuelan security forces were sending death squads to murder young men. (Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos at the United Nations and Andrew Cawthorne and Vivian Sequera in Caracas Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

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