Dueling Camps Vie for Control of Venezuela’s Embassy in Brazil

Dueling Camps Vie for Control of Venezuela’s Embassy in Brazil

BRASÍLIA — Venezuela’s embassy in Brazil’s capital became the scene of a tense and at times violent standoff on Wednesday that lasted more than 12-hours and began when a group of Venezuelans seeking the ouster of President Nicolás Maduro tried to gain control of the diplomatic compound.

Representatives of Juan Guaidó, a Venezuelan politician who seeks to depose Mr. Maduro and proclaimed himself the rightful leader of Venezuela in January, entered the diplomatic compound saying they were doing so at the invitation of some of the diplomats assigned there by the Maduro government. Around 5 p.m. Mr. Guaidó’s supporters left the embassy, according to local press reports in Brasília.

The confrontation lasted more than 12 hours, and led to screaming and shoving matches at the gate that drew a large police presence. It played out as Brazil was hosting the Chinese, Indian, Russian and South African leaders for a summit of an alliance known as BRICS.

The head of the mission, denounced the entry of Mr. Guaidó’s supporters as an invasion and a breach of diplomatic norms.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attempted takeover of the embassy in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. It called for the “immediate expulsion” of those who had sought to take control of the compound and denounced the “passive” response by the Brazil police.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that the government was “taking the necessary measures to restore public order and avoid acts of violence.”

The standoff underscored the diplomatic conundrum facing many governments in the region since Mr. Guaidó’s bid to take power.

Brazil was among several countries that promptly recognized Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader, arguing that Mr. Maduro’s autocratic conduct had rendered him an illegitimate leader. Brazil’s government has recognized Mr. Guaidó’s diplomatic envoy to the country, María Teresa Belandria, as Venezuela’s ambassador in Brazil. But it has not expelled diplomats appointed by Mr. Maduro, who have been in control of the diplomatic facility.

This has created an awkward and legally dubious situation for countries like Brazil, which in practice have retained diplomatic relations with two camps that are battling for power.

Critics of Mr. Maduro in the region hoped that robust international support for Mr. Guaidó would prompt the armed forces to turn on Mr. Maduro. But the military did not budge, leaving Mr. Maduro in power while many in the international community, including the United States, continue to nominally regard Mr. Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.

The Wednesday confrontation began in the early morning. The leader of it, Tomas Silva, a deputy to Ms. Belandria, posted a video on social media saying that diplomatic representatives of Mr. Maduro had welcomed the Guaidó allies and handed over control of the facility, which includes an embassy and an adjacent residence.

“We’re thrilled, we’re happy,” Mr. Silva said, standing in front of the embassy emblem. “Dignity has been restored.”

Mr. Silva said the Guaidó team’s presence at the embassy should galvanize a protest that opposition leaders have organized for Saturday in Venezuela.

But Freddy Meregote, Mr. Maduro’s top diplomat in Brasília, called the takeover “an irresponsible invasion” that had violated diplomatic norms.

Brazilian leftist politicians called the attempted takeover of the embassy a serious breach of diplomatic norms.

“We can’t accept this,” said Jandira Feghali, an opposition leader in Congress. “It sets a very serious precedent.”

Paulo Pimenta, another leftist lawmaker who was inside the facility on Wednesday, said the people who strode into the premises “had no idea what they were doing.” He said the group included “bodybuilders and jujitsu fighters who were hired.”

Brazil’s presidency said in a statement that it had not encouraged the takeover of the compound and that it was hoping the standoff could be resolved peacefully.

“As usual, there are unscrupulous individuals trying to take advantage of events to generate disorder and instability,” said the statement, in an apparent reference to Brazilian sympathizers of Mr. Maduro.

Letícia Casado reported from Brasília and Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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