Macron accused of ‘U-turn’ over Maduro encounter

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron faced accusations on Tuesday (Nov 8) of making a major foreign policy reversal after an apparently cordial encounter with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro on the sidelines of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

The one-and-a-half-minute handshake and chat on the sidelines of the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday may have been brief, but they were a stark contrast to previous comments by Macron, who in 2019 had described Maduro as “illegitimate”.

“I would be happy if we could talk to each other for longer to engage in useful bilateral work for the region,” Macron told Maduro, according to a video recording of the encounter.

Addressing Maduro as “president,” he added that “I will call you.”

France, the US and several European allies never recognised Maduro’s re-election to a second term in 2018 elections and instead recognised his rival Juan Guaido as acting president.

But Guaido’s influence has ebbed after Maduro clung onto power, and Western countries are also keenly aware of Venezuela’s status as a key OPEC oil producer at a time of global energy crisis.

In 2019, Macron had recognised Guaido as acting president, describing Maduro’s election as “illegitimate” and calling for “a restoration of democracy” in the country.

“Excellent handshake with the President of France Emmanuel Macron,” Maduro tweeted after the meeting. “The doors of Venezuela are open for the French people.”

“Macron’s Big U-turn on Maduro’s Venezuela,” commented France’s left-wing daily Liberation.

The leader of France’s ultra-left wing France Unbowed party (LFI) Jean-Luc Melenchon, a longtime admirer of Venezuela under Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, tweeted that the “need for oil makes people polite.”

He said that Macron had “finally” recognised the election of Maduro.

The encounter also came as Macron prepares this week to host Colombia’s first left-wing President Gustavo Petro, who has renewed diplomatic relations with its neighbour Venezuela and wants to normalise ties after a three-year rupture.

Venezuela is also sending a senior official to attend the Paris Peace Forum, a major annual conference backed by Macron that starts on Friday.

During the discussion between the two presidents, Maduro said that “France should play a positive role” in Latin America.

The occasionally surreal exchange between the two men – where the presidents rigidly stare at each other – also saw Maduro declare that “we have very good friends in common” and ask Macron “when do you visit us?”

Asked if the encounter represented a change of policy by France, the French foreign ministry said all questions should be addressed to the Elysee.