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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a media availability after meeting with her Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez in Toronto, Friday, June 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick KozakNick Kozak/The Canadian Press

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Cuba could play a role in stabilizing the Venezuelan crisis, one week after the Trump administration urged the Trudeau government to expose Cuba’s “malign influence” on the Maduro regime.

Ms. Freeland made the remarks after a meeting with her Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, in Toronto on Friday. Cuba has continued to back Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, as Western allies, including Canada and the United States, have thrown their support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Ms. Freeland said it is important to hear Cuba’s perspective.

“Canada has a deep and historic connection with Cuba," she told reporters, "and we believe, and I hope our Cuban counterparts would agree, that this strong relationship we have with Cuba can be a way for us to talk about the crisis in Venezuela, coming as we do from very different perspectives.”

Canada’s interest in involving Cuba in talks over Venezuela puts it at odds with the United States. Speaking to reporters in Ottawa last week, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said Canada and the United States must work together to “expose the malign influence of Cuba within Venezuela.”

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who joined Mr. Pence for the joint news conference in Ottawa, made it clear he did not agree with Mr. Pence’s criticism of Cuba.

“We acknowledge the United States’ position and perspective on Cuba. Canada has a very different view,” he said. Mr. Trudeau noted Cuba could “potentially play a very positive role” in the Lima Group, a regional bloc of countries working to find a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis.

Ms. Freeland said the Lima Group also expressed its support for Cuba’s involvement during a meeting in Guatemala on Thursday. In addition to Canada, a number of regional countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Peru and Venezuela (represented by Mr. Guaido) are part of the Lima Group.

The bloc backs Mr. Guaido’s push to oust Mr. Maduro and opposes foreign military intervention in Venezuela. Mr. Guaido swore himself in as interim leader in January in direct challenge to Mr. Maduro.

Venezuela has suffered economic collapse under the Maduro government, with inflation topping one million per cent. Facing widespread food and medicine shortages, four million people have fled the country, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Ms. Freeland said she and Mr. Rodriguez also discussed the Trump administration’s decision in April to end the suspension of a law that allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies who do business in Cuba over property confiscated by Cuba since the 1959 revolution. Title III of the Helms-Burton Act has been suspended since its creation in 1996, waived by every president owing to opposition from the international community.

The law could have serious implications for Canadian companies that operate in Cuba – a concern for Ms. Freeland.

“The Government of Canada always has, does and will continue to support Canadians and Canadian companies legitimately doing business in Cuba,” Ms. Freeland said.

Earlier this year, Canada cut the number of diplomatic staff in Cuba after more than a dozen staff and their family members reported unexplained brain injuries they sustained while representing Canada in Havana. As a result of the cutbacks, the Canadian embassy is no longer processing visa applications from Cubans. Ms. Freeland said Canadian and Cuban officials are working to find a solution to the visa problems.

“There is no political desire or signal or anything else being sent by this. It’s entirely about caring for the health of Canadian diplomats,” Ms. Freeland said.

With a report from Reuters

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