Canada plans to convene Lima Group meeting on Venezuela's future: CP sources
Jim Bronskill and Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 24, 2019 3:24PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 24, 2019 5:36PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada plans to soon host a meeting of countries from the Americas determined to steer troubled Venezuela back on a path to democracy.
The gathering of the Lima Group of nations is likely to take place in Canada some time this winter, sources tell The Canadian Press.
Word of the plan comes a day after the group expressed full support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido amid mounting political turmoil in the South American country.
As large crowds filled the streets, Guaido declared himself interim president just two weeks after Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a contested second term.
Canada has accused Maduro of seizing power through fraudulent, anti-democratic elections in May of last year.
More than three million Venezuelans have fled in the last few years in search of basics such as food and health care.
Global Affairs Canada is advising people to avoid non-essential travel to Venezuela due to the high level of violent crime, the unstable political and economic situations, and shortages of medication, food and water.
Canada closed its embassy in Caracas for the day Thursday and will assess whether to open it day-to-day based on the degree of upheaval.
The Lima Group was established in August 2017, in Lima, Peru, to co-ordinate participating countries' efforts and apply international pressure on Venezuela until democracy is restored.
The group's meetings have included representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia.
Like Ottawa, Washington backs Guaido and is calling for Maduro to step aside.
Canada, which has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Maduro's government, emphasizes the value of playing a leading role in the Lima Group.
Canada has "perhaps less of the baggage than the U.S. brings" to dealing with Latin American politics, said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation in Venezuela.
"It's particularly important for this not to be seen as just a Venezuela-specific issue," said another source. "This is a global issue in terms of democratic rights and freedoms. It's a humanitarian issue, a financial issue."
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been clear that Canada will stand up for human rights and democratic ideals, the source said. "The Lima Group has proven to be a very strong force for that."
Canada has worked on the ground in Venezuela with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Ottawa anticipated Guaido's emergence through "pretty close contact" with him in recent months, said one official.
"It only made sense for us to recognize him once he declared himself interim president of the country."
Thousands of people arrive in Colombia each day from Venezuela, many of them women and girls in particular need of protection from physical threats and assault, said a report released Thursday by the World Refugee Council, a global body composed of nearly two dozen political leaders, policy advisers and academic experts.
Fen Osler Hampson, the council's executive director, said Canada's efforts on the political front in Venezuela are "enormously important." But he urged Ottawa to push to have a portion of the frozen foreign assets of Maduro and his associates go toward helping the refugees.
The Opposition Conservatives issued a statement this week condemning Maduro's "illegitimate rule over Venezuela."
The New Democrats, however, were less definitive.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the events in Venezuela a humanitarian crisis and condemned military action against protesters. But he added Thursday that Canada should not "simply follow the U.S.'s foreign policy, particularly given its history of self-interested interference in the region."
The question of who leads Venezuela should be in the hands of the people, Singh said. "All countries should be free to make their own democratic decisions through free and fair elections, independent of authoritative pressure or foreign interference."
New Democrat MP Niki Ashton was more blunt, tweeting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had sided with U.S. President Donald Trump's "regime change agenda and Brazil's fascist president.
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