MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government has appointed a new ambassador to Venezuela, signalling a thaw in relations that comes two years after Madrid vacated the post to protest over what it said was the absence of free elections in the Caribbean country.
Following the 2018 presidential election, Spain recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and distanced itself from the government of Nicolas Maduro, culminating in the recall of its top envoy to Caracas in November 2020.
The new appointment heralds a change in that stance within the context of the ongoing political talks in Mexico between Venezuela's government and opposition groups.
"There are new circumstances that make it advisable to raise Spain's representation in Venezuela to the level of ambassador," a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.
"Once the negotiations in Mexico have resumed, Spain intends to be able to influence ... the opening of the Venezuelan political process," the spokesperson said, adding that the decision does not alter Madrid's position on the 2018 election.
The government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wants to ensure that the upcoming 2024 presidential election in Venezuela is "more democratic and allows the opposition to play the role it was unable to exercise at the time," he said.
The new ambassador is Ramon Santos Martinez, who has been the acting head of the diplomatic mission in Caracas since November 2021.
Last week, Venezuela's opposition voted by a wide margin to remove the interim government led by Guaido as it seeks a united front ahead of the next presidential election.
Guaido had been the face of Venezuela's opposition abroad since he declared himself interim president in 2019. But due mostly to the opposition's failure to remove Maduro from power, Guaido has fallen out of favour on the international stage.
The talks hosted by Mexico ended earlier this month with no further negotiations expected before the end of the year.
"The international community, starting with the U.S., has done a remarkable turnaround," said a source familiar with the talks.
(Reporting by Belén Carreño; Editing by David Latona and Tomasz Janowski)