Venezuela’s ambassador to Canada is working out of his Ottawa condo in an effort to avoid tensions with the embassy, which is staffed by political opponents loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuelan Opposition Leader Juan Guaido named Orlando Viera-Blanco as his envoy to Canada last February, weeks after Mr. Guaido declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to the Maduro regime. Canada officially recognized Mr. Viera-Blanco as ambassador last November, when he presented his credentials to the Governor-General in Ottawa.
Mr. Viera-Blanco will meet with members of the Lima Group, a regional bloc of countries working to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis, in Ottawa on Thursday. The alliance has repeatedly urged Mr. Maduro to step down, calling his regime a “dictatorship.”
In a highly unusual situation, Mr. Viera-Blanco is still not working out of the Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa. He says that while he is technically allowed to access the embassy as ambassador, he has chosen to work from his condo to avoid any potential confrontations with the Maduro-appointed diplomats at the embassy, who are providing needed consular services to Venezuelans in Canada.
“I have no intention to create more tension with this presence but I understand that on a legal basis, I’m the head of the mission,” Mr. Viera-Blanco said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“We made a decision not to push in that direction in order [to] allow them to give consular services to Venezuelan people.”
Mr. Viera-Blanco and his single staffer can’t provide consular services, as the Maduro regime is still running the government. So Mr. Viera-Blanco said he is focusing on the Venezuelan opposition’s relationship with Canada, which is among dozens of countries that recognize Mr. Guaido as interim president.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s office said Mr. Viera-Blanco acts as Canada’s “intermediary” with Venezuela, adding the government is “deeply concerned by the worsening economic, political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela.”
Venezuela’s economy has collapsed under the Maduro government, with inflation topping one million per cent in the past year. Facing widespread food and medicine shortages, more than 4.5 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 – a number the United Nations refugee agency predicts will grow to 6.5 million by the end of 2020.
Luis Acuna, Mr. Maduro’s top diplomat in Ottawa, said the Venezuelan embassy employs three diplomats who have also been accredited by the Canadian government, and two local staff. The employees provide all consular services, including passports, birth certificates and visas, in Canada and the United States.
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela ... does not recognize any diplomat not appointed by the Constitutional President Nicolas Maduro Moros,” Mr. Acuna said in a statement.
Venezuela withdrew its ambassador from Ottawa in 2017 in protest over Canadian sanctions against the Maduro regime. Canada later barred the ambassador from returning to Ottawa and expelled another senior Venezuelan diplomat after Caracas expelled Canada’s top envoy.
Mr. Viera-Blanco, a former international corporate lawyer, says he does not communicate with the Maduro-appointed diplomats at the Venezuelan embassy. He says that while the situation is not ideal, he is committed to making it work for the betterment of his country.
“This is a mission that we support by ourselves because of our commitment for freedom and democracy in Venezuela.”
Mr. Viera-Blanco moved to Ottawa with his wife. He said they cannot go back to Venezuela, citing fears for their safety over their affiliation with Mr. Guaido.
“We are considered as traitors,” he said.
He hopes the Lima Group will renew its pressure on the Maduro regime when it meets in Ottawa. He said that support, especially from Canada, has been “huge” in the Venezuelan fight for democracy.
“Canada has been very supportive about the objective to recover democracy in Venezuela, in many aspects – humanitarian help, narrative, recognition of Guaido as the legitimate president and recognition of myself,” Mr. Viera-Blanco said.
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