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Diplomatic tussle Venezuelan opposition sets up rival embassy in Geneva restaurant

Venezuela’s political crisis is also having repercussions in Switzerland, where two rival embassies – in Bern and Geneva – claim to represent the official voice of the troubled South American country. 

The Venezuelan embassy in Bernexternal link is the longstanding official diplomatic mission of the Caracas authorities, under the control of President Nicolás Maduro. 

However, a small Venezuelan restaurant in Geneva, the main meeting point of Maduro’s opponents in Switzerland, has effectively become a rival embassy, under the authority of the self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaidó. 

In Switzerland, two ambassadors each claim to be the legitimate diplomatic representative of Venezuela. 

Guaidó appointed Maria-Alejandra Aristeguieta [woman wearing glasses in the video], a former United Nations diplomat and anti-Maduro activist, to represent him in Switzerland.

She has been working on her own out of the Geneva restaurant to establish as many contacts as possible with the authorities and powers in Switzerland.

Experienced ambassador César Osvelio Méndez González works in Bern. His message is simple: President Maduro's power is strong, as is the Venezuelan embassy in Switzerland. 

Frustration

But some Venezuelan expats in Geneva are frustrated. Aristeguieta complains that consular services are biased, basic equipment is lacking and official requests made by opposition supporters are poorly dealt with. 

Méndez denies the accusations: “Not at all. We treat every request in the same way and all Venezuelans without exception are welcome here. Of course, we sometimes have supply problems and procedures had to be adapted, but both the consulate and the embassy are functional.”

The opposition leader Juan Guaidó invoked the constitution to assume the role of acting president in January after an election, which many called a sham, kept Maduro in power.

Guaidó was recognised by around 50 mostly Western countries – but not Switzerland – as the legitimate president. However, he has struggled to enforce his government's mandate amid a humanitarian crisis in the country.

RTS/SRF/sb

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