CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela has denied visa extensions for electoral observers from the European Union, requiring them to leave the South American country this weekend, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
The observers arrived in October for regional and local elections that took place on Nov. 21. Members of the delegation’s leadership had said they would remain until Dec. 13.
“There was not an extension of the stay so they must leave this weekend,” said the source, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the record.
President Nicolas Maduro has called the observers “spies” and said their preliminary report – which said voting conditions were better than in previous contests but that some candidates were blocked unfairly – is an effort to stain a peaceful and democratic electoral process.
“Those who came as enemies, the delegation of spies from the European Union, found not a bit of evidence to criticize the electoral system,” Maduro said of the November 21 polls for gubernatorial and mayoral posts in the oil-rich Central American nation.
Maduro’s ruling socialist party claimed a landslide victory in the country’s first vote to include top opposition parties in nearly four years, bagging 20 of the 23 gubernatorial offices and the mayorship of the capital Caracas.
The opposition parties, ending their three-year boycott of regional elections, walked away with the remaining three posts.
The November vote marked the first time in 15 years that the EU sent a team to observe Venezuela’s elections.
The mission included 1,000 observers who monitored voting in 22 out of 23 polls. The full report is expected to be released in two months.