OTTAWA—The Lima Group ramped up the pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s socialist regime in Venezuela at an emergency meeting in Ottawa on Feb. 4, but continued to rule out military intervention.
The coalition of more than a dozen Latin American countries and Canada was established in 2017 to coordinate efforts to restore the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela. Delegates from seven European countries, including the EU, also participated in the Ottawa meetings.
The outcome of the meeting is a 17-item declaration reiterating support for head of Venezuela’s congress Juan Guaidó as the lawful interim president of the country and the need to alleviate the humanitarian crisis for the Venezuelan people.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland singled out the final item of the declaration on “support for a process of peaceful transition through political and diplomatic means without use of force.”
In an example of the difference between democracy and authoritarianism, protestors entered the auditorium and interrupted Freeland, screaming “Hands off Venezuela!” She remarked that protestors enjoy the freedom to protest in Canada but wouldn’t in Venezuela.
“The protestors are a demonstration of Canadian democracy and I am proud of that,” she said.
On Jan. 23, the Lima Group recognized Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, as interim president of Venezuela. The National Assembly is recognized by many countries as the only legitimate democratically elected body in Venezuela.
Several nations around the world, including the United States, have also condemned the Maduro regime and lent support to Guaidó’s interim leadership claim under the Venezuelan constitution. Freeland said 34 countries have now recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.
The Lima Group called on the international community to take steps preventing Maduro from conducting financial and trade transactions abroad, and from having access to the country’s international assets.
Since 2015, more than 3 million Venezuelans have been forced to flee the country to find food, shelter, and health care.
On the day of the summit, Canada announced $40 million (C$53 million) in aid to Venezuelans. The total aid Canada has now contributed stands at over $42 million.
“The bulk of the funds will go to trusted partners and neighboring countries to help them support Venezuela and Venezuelans,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said prior to the start of the meeting.
The development and humanitarian aid includes assistance for Peruvian and Colombian governments affected by the Venezuelan migration. The funds will be used for skills training, education, and refugee support.
Trudeau spoke personally with Guaidó on Feb. 3 and congratulated him for his courage. Both continue to push for fair and free elections and a return to democracy. Thousands in Venezuela are pushing for change in street protests.
“In spite of the repression and the violence, people in Venezuela have gone out to the streets to support President Guaidó and to reject the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro,” said Peru’s minister of foreign affairs, Nestor Francisco Popolizio Bardales.
The Maduro socialist regime is supported by Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey. And even within Canada, the socialist ideology has pockets of strength. Canada’s largest union—the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)— said in a Jan. 25 statement: “Given the history of U.S. involvement in the region, the actions of Guaidó have all the signs of a coup d’État. We warn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau against playing any role in bringing about regime change in another country.”
But the signs of trouble in Venezuela are too difficult to ignore. The state-owned oil firm PDVSA has been akin to a personal piggy-bank for Maduro. It is the target of sanctions from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Venezuela was once South America’s wealthiest country, but critics say Maduro’s socialism has brought corruption, famine, and inflation.
“Maduro and his socialism are entirely self-discrediting. If anyone believes that his management of the economy is in any way an example of how to go about it, then they need their heads examined,” said Alan Duncan, UK minister responsible for the Americas and Europe. “We need to see an improvement in the lives of ordinary Venezuelans.”
Freeland also reiterated that last September Canada, along with Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru, asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Maduro regime for alleged crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, rape, and forced disappearances.
“The damage done to Venezuela’s economy and people is enormous,” said Freeland, prior to the meetings. “It will take years to recover. … It will require an unwavering commitment from us all.”
Freeland noted that Canada has imposed targeted sanctions against 70 Maduro officials for corruption and gross violations of human rights. The most recent sanctions are pursuant to the Magnitsky Act and include travel bans and the freezing of assets.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also took part in the summit via videoconference. The United States is an observer of the Lima Group.
Mexico, led by the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, did not have any representatives attend in Ottawa.
Leader of the Primero Justicio Party of Venezuela, Julio Borges, was his country’s on-site representative and was welcomed as Venezuela’s Guaidó-led opposition became a full member of the Lima Group.
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