Merida, June 20th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Upon completing a series of high-level talks in France, Portugal and Italy, securing a slew of new bilateral agreements this week, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro described his visit to Europe as producing “excellent results”.
After meeting with his French counterpart President Francois Hollande on the final day of his trip, Maduro announced a “new phase” in the relationship between the two countries.
Maduro stated that a “strategic alliance” would be formed between Venezuela and France. According to the Venezuelan president, the relationship between Paris and Caracas could act as an “engine” to promote cooperation between Europe and Latin America.
Both leaders stated that the “alliance” would focus on strengthening economic ties. “The partnership could help establish closer ties between the European Union and Latin America,” Maduro stated.
While visiting Paris, Maduro also held a meeting with French oil company Total, the news agency EFE reported, though no details of the meeting were initially made public. The president also reportedly met with French car manufacturer Renault and the aircraft producer Airbus. EFE reports that Maduro discussed purchasing a “large” number of airliners for the Venezuelan national carrier, Conviasa.
According to Maduro, the two leaders will follow up talks during the Fourth Joint Commission between Venezuela and France in July.
France is a major investor in Venezuela, though in April 2006 Total's oilfields were among those nationalised by the Bolivarian government. On 17 April the Hollande administration became the third European government to acknowledge Maduro's victory in the 14 April presidential election.
When the Venezuelan president arrived in Paris, “dozens” of Latin American residents of the city gathered to welcome him, according to Prensa Latina.
The visit immediately followed Maduro's trip to Portugal earlier in the week, where he signed 14 new agreements in Lisbon.
Among the agreements inked during the eighth meeting of the Joint Committee between Portugal and Venezuela on Tuesday is a deal that Venezuela will import 100,000 tonnes of frozen food from Portugal. Other agreements also reportedly included concessions to encourage the expansion of Portugal's largest private bank, Banco Espírito Santo and the Lisbon based financial services group Banif's operations in Venezuela.
Deals were also signed relating to the Caracas-La Guaira freeway, according to AVN. AVN reported that the freeway will run between Caracas and the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, and will be built with Portuguese cooperation. Maduro has stated that the project is slated for completion in 2017.
Venezuela is currently Portugal's second largest trading partner in South America.
Prior to visiting Portugal, Maduro kicked off his first trip to Europe as president in Italy on Sunday. Along with meeting Pope Francis, Maduro also spoke with the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano.
However, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has continued to criticise Maduro, including in a letter sent to the pope just days before Maduro visited the Vatican City. In the letter, Capriles accused the government of being complicit in “repeated human rights violations”, and undermining democracy.
In April, the Venezuelan national assembly launched a probe to investigate Capriles' role in a deadly wave of violence following the 14 April presidential elections. Capriles has also rejected calls from the country's electoral authority, the National Electoral Council, to accept the results of the elections.
On Wednesday, another opposition figure, Acción Democrática party president Edgar Zambrano reportedly met with the Pope Francis to request political assistance from the papacy.
Despite an ongoing campaign from the Venezuelan opposition for international support against Maduro, the president has stated that he received a warm welcome in Rome. Speaking to Italian media, Maduro said he was “moved” by the “expressions of love, kisses and lovely greetings from people in Rome”. “I must appreciate so much love, so much support, so much solidarity from Italy,” he added.
Maduro returned to Caracas on Wednesday night, but has already hinted at his next trip abroad. On Tuesday, Maduro tweeted that he intends to meet with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rowhani in the near future.
After winning the 14 June elections in Iran, Rowhani is set to be sworn in on 3 August, replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.