New Zealand praised for refusing to back Venezuela's interim president Juan Guaidó

Winston Peters' refusal to back our allies in supporting Venezuela's interim president has caught the world's attention, with many hailing the decision. 

Last week, opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela's interim president in an intense acceleration of efforts to force out Nicolás Maduro, who has overseen the country fall into an economic crisis.

While Mr Guaidó quickly gained the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and even Australia, New Zealand has chosen not to take a side in the leadership debate, instead remaining neutral. 

"It is not New Zealand's practice to make statements of recognition of governments," Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Monday. 

"Venezuela needs to decide its future through free and fair elections. This Government expressed concerns about Venezuela's elections in 2018, and these concerns remain."

Mr Peters' statement was picked up by world media, with The Guardian's article on New Zealand's refusal to back Mr Guaidó among its most viewed stories on Tuesday. 

Taking to social media, many praised New Zealand for not taking a side. 

"I feel like NZ has the most enlightened leadership in the world right now. Good on you guys!" one person said on Twitter. 

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó was sworn in on January 23rd, 2019 as interim president of Venezuela.
Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó was sworn in on January 23rd, 2019 as interim president of Venezuela. Photo credit: Getty

"One again (sic), NZ demonstrates it has an independent foreign policy and is not a US puppet. It's a pity Australia hasn't got the confidence to do likewise," wrote another.

But not everyone was in favour of New Zealand's decision. 

"It's way past time for New Zealand to follow our allies as well as Latin American democracies in recognising Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela, as well as joining diplomatic and economic efforts to remove the vile Maduro regime."

Mr Peters said last year he was "extremely concerned" about "the continuing erosion of democratic norms and institutions" in Venezuela, following widespread reports of corruption. 

He urged the Venezuelan government to "respect democratic norms and institutions" and protect the human rights of its citizens. 

Mr Maduro is backed by Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia and Turkey, and he retains the support of Venezuela's military. 

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged countries to "pick a side", last week calling on the United Nations to back Mr Guaidó and for free and fair elections as soon as possible.

"Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Mr Maduro and his mayhem," he said. 

Mr Pompeo accused Russia and China of "propping up a failed regime in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years".

Venezuela is oil-rich, but hyperinflation has rendered the country's currency, the bolivar, practically worthless