As Lima Group meets in Ottawa, Canadians remain divided on Venezuela

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Photo: OEA - OAS/flickr

As Canada plays host to foreign ministers from a number of Lima Group countries to discuss the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela, the issue remains contentious within Canada just as it does around the world.

Notably missing from the Lima Group conference will be a representative from Mexico. Under its new left-wing president, Mexico was the lone country in the Lima group that did not sign the agreement recognizing the National Assembly as the legitimate governing body. Despite not being a member, reports indicate that the United States will have its Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, participate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke directly with declared president Juan Guaido ahead of Monday’s meeting and reaffirmed his support for him. But the government’s position is not sitting well with many Canadians.

"By first recognizing Guaido as the new president, and then demanding 'free and fair' elections take place, with an arbitrary deadline, Canada is illegally interfering with the democratic rights of all Venezuelans," said NDP candidate Jessa McLean last week. "Can you imagine what would happen if the roles were reversed? If another state declared their unwavering support for a presidential candidate before an election, then determined exactly when that election would take place, and hosted a summit designed to further meddle in those elections? And all of this was done under economic sanctions and the threat of military action."

These comments came after a demand for an apology from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

"Canadians need an apology," Freeland said, for what she termed McLean’s "defence of a dictatorship that has killed hundreds and injured thousands of peaceful protesters."

However, McLean, feels that she owes no apology for her criticism of Canada’s declaration that Guaido, and not Nicolas Maduro, is the rightful president of Venezuela. "It is, in fact, Minister Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau who need to apologize to the Venezuelan people for contributing to the political and economic instability in Venezuela."

McLean’s original comment and that of NDP MP Niki Ashton, came on the heels of Canada’s decision to recognize Juan Guaido as the rightful president of Venezuela. Canada has joined the United States and around two dozen other countries in recognizing Guadio, while Mexico, Bolivia, Nicuragua, El Salvador and a handful of traditional international Venezuelan allies continue recognize Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro.

In a statement from Global Affairs Canada, the ministry said “As stated in the January 4 Lima Group Declaration, Canada rejects the Maduro regime’s illegitimate claim to power and has called upon Nicolás Maduro to cede power to the democratically elected National Assembly.”

"We reiterate that a resolution of the crisis in Venezuela can only be achieved through the leadership and courage of Venezuelans themselves. We remain committed to working with our partners, particularly through the Lima Group of countries, and with Venezuela’s democratic opposition," the statement continued.

To date, both Guaido and the United States have rejected offers from Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican to mediate the situation and negotiate between Guaido’s supporters and Maduro’s.

One of the largest remaining questions in Venezuela is the role that the military will play. While they currently remain supportive of Maduro, if it switched its allegiance and decided to support Guaido, the situation in Venezuela could quickly change.

"I would not want to characterize the views of other people, but I would agree with anyone who condemns U.S. intervention or coup-mongering, while also recognizing that the military remain the key player at this moment, " said Dr. Max Cameron, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in Latin America. "Is Guaido conniving for a coup? Not expressly. It seems fair to say, however, that part of his strategy is to use a pincer of domestic and international opposition to force the military to choose whether to back or abandon Maduro. My hope would be that this would create an opportunity for a negotiated settlement, but I am not naïve about the kind of people who are backing Guaido."

“An overt military coup would be dangerous and unwelcome, but one could imagine the military retiring their support from Maduro, thereby, creating the opportunity for a pluralistic interim government leading to internationally monitored elections in which there would be a role for the forces of chavismo, and an opportunity for those who have committed crimes to avail themselves of amnesty. That is probably the best possible outcome. The alternatives are more repression, a costly stalemate or a breakdown of order and civil war."

Traditional supporters of Maduro argue that this is another attempt at a coup orchestrated by the U.S. government, just as they charge that the failed 2002 coup to remove Chavez was also an American plot. The coup lasted less than 48 hours when Venezuelans stormed the capital and demanded that Chavez be reinstated. The Trump administration has been very vocal in its support of Guaido and has continued to exert economic pressure on the nation.

There are those who remain critical of Maduro’s governance and policies but who maintain that Canada should not be interfering in the domestic politics of another country. Trudeau, however, reaffirmed at a town hall that he does not believe Maduro is the legitimate president and that he is recognizing what he believes is the constitutional authority in the country.

Photo: OEA - OAS/flickr

Ryan Donnelly is a freelance writer from Southern Ontario with an academic background in Canadian public policy. He's also a former human rights worker and adovcate who has written on issues of Canadian foreign policy.


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