Ottawa will stage next week’s meeting of the Lima Group, a regional bloc of countries tasked with finding a peaceful solution to the intensifying political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Monday.
Ms. Freeland’s announcement came as U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing powerful sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm, PDVSA. The measures are the latest in an international pressure campaign on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to cede power after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim leader last week.
Canada, the United States and the Lima Group quickly recognized Mr. Guaido – who was elected president of Venezuela’s National Assembly on Jan. 5 – as the interim president, while Russia, China, Turkey and Iran backed Mr. Maduro. Ms. Freeland said Mr. Maduro “relinquished” any remaining legitimacy when he seized power through “fraudulent and anti-democratic elections” last year.
“Maduro has created an economic, political and humanitarian crisis. Millions of Venezuelans have been left with no access to doctors or medicine and are scrambling for food. In recent years, three million people have fled Venezuela and, according to the UN, that number could rise to more than five million by the end of this year,” Ms. Freeland told reporters on Parliament Hill Monday.
She said Canada will play host to its fellow Lima Group members – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru – in Ottawa next Monday to discuss next steps to support Mr. Guaido and the people of Venezuela.
The Lima Group will consider measures to provide more humanitarian aid to Venezuela and for refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Colombia and Brazil, according to Ms. Freeland.
“We’ve seen with Syria the way in which a refugee crisis can have much broader destabilizing impacts, so it is important for us to be focused on that as well,” Ms. Freeland said.
Last September, Canada, along with Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru, asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Venezuelan government for alleged crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, rape and forced disappearances. It marked the first time ICC member states have referred a fellow member state to prosecutors.
Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister who now sits on the Organization of American States panel investigating alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela, said the Lima Group should use its coming meeting to find ways to pressure the Venezuelan military to support Mr. Guaido. The alliance can do this by drawing attention to the ICC’s preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed in Venezuela under the Maduro regime, he said.
“I think it’s possible for the community of democracies to leverage the referral to the ICC … to put the military leadership in Venezuela on notice that they can be held accountable for their crimes should they continue to support Maduro,” Mr. Cotler told The Globe and Mail last week.
“This might be an important leveraging that can tip the military to join the opposition.”
Ms. Freeland said Venezuela has been one of the government’s top foreign-policy priorities, and that Lima Group countries have expressed their gratitude for Canada’s leadership.
She also thanked the six Canadian diplomats working on the ground in Venezuela, where the embassy remains open despite security concerns over the instability in Caracas. She specifically highlighted the work of Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, and former charge d’affairs, Craig Kowalik.