“Now it is time for every 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 Maduro and his mayhem,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Council at the meeting.
His words set the tone for the often verbally combative council meeting, after the US this week said it recognised the self-declared interim president, opposition leader Juan Guaido, and not the incumbent Maduro.
Alongside the US, France, the UK, Germany and Spain have demanded new elections be called within eight days.
Russia tried to prevent Saturday's UN Security Council meeting, saying it was tantamount to incitement. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said, “The US is trying to affect regime change in Venezuela.”
Change of government 'unconstitutional'
South African Ambassador to the UN Jerry Matjila said the Council was working counter to its mandate by ordering the meeting.
“The Security Council should never be an instrument that validates unconstitutional changes of any government,” said Matjila.
“Instead, this Council should promote avenues that create environments conducive to dialogue and cooperation that would ease the challenges and hardships faced by the people of Venezuela,” he added.
Divide in Latin America, Caribbean
The current Security Council President, Dominican Republic, represented by Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas said his country had tried to foster dialogue with all sides in Venezuela in 2017 and 2018, “but dialogue did not achieve its desired goal". He also called for the need for new elections as soon as possible.
“The only possible dialogue is the one that will speed up the already ongoing process of democratic transition. It is the dialogue with Guaido and all those committed to democracy and with the interests of Venezuela and its people,” said Brazilian Ambassador to the UN Mauro Viera.
However representatives of Cuba, Bolivia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Nicaragua, among others, stood behind Venezuela, calling the demand for Maduro to step down imperialist and against the rule of law.
"Where in our constitution is that allowed? Show me," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, speaking to the Council on the eight-day ultimatum given by the US and the EU.
More than three million Venezuelans have left the country over the past three years as the country plunges deeper in to a humanitarian crisis. Lack of food and vital medicines has forced many to cross the border into neighbouring countries, including Colombia.
“The dictatorship in Venezuela has emerged as a threat to the peace, security and stability in the region," Columbia’s Foreign Minister Carlos Trujilo told the Security Council, while calling for humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan people.
"Columbia, as a country that shares a border with Venezuela, is all too well aware and is directly suffering the consequences [...] of what’s happening in Venezuela,” he said, citing the more than one million Venezuelans that have crossed the border into his country. “We will continue to participate actively in the finding and forging of a regional global response to adequately address this migration crisis."
EU, US united
Commending neighbouring countries who have taken on Venezuelans, German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen reiterated the call with the UK and France for new elections: “The National Assembly is the only democratically elected institution, whose constitutional power have to be respected.”
Heusgen and his Russian counterpart also had an exchange of words regarding the call for new elections.
“The use of preventative diplomacy is excellent…putting forward an absurd eight-day ultimatum,” retorted Nebenzya, after he had been given the floor again.
The US was unwavering as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Cuba has sent “security and intelligence thugs” to sustain Maduro’s “illegitimate rule”.
Cuban ambassador to the UN Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo also took the floor again after her initial statement to “categorically reject” the US calls for fresh elections.
“[The US] is seeking to impose an illegitimate president on the Venezuelan people,” she said.
While EU members were speaking in the Security Council, EU diplomatic head Federica Mogherini said that the EU will act during the next few days if Maduro does not step down.
"In the absence of an announcement on the organisation of fresh elections with the necessary guarantees over the next days, the EU will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country's leadership," she said, adding that the EU fully supports the National Assembly.