Canada would oppose U.S. military intervention in an increasingly tense Venezuela and is pushing for a peaceful transition to democracy with new presidential elections, the federal government says.
The Canadian government and its Lima Group allies – 13 North and South American countries, excluding the U.S. – will gather in Ottawa on Monday and discuss ways the international community can bolster Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido. The group opposes socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 victory is widely disputed after opposition groups were blocked from participating.
Canada will urge the international community to recognize Mr. Guaido’s leadership, and will discuss with its Lima Group partners measures to help Venezuela with its financial crisis. In addition, the group will look for measures to assist neighbouring countries that have faced an influx of refugees.
This comes as eight European countries recognized Mr. Guaido’s leadership today, including Germany, Austria, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Mr. Guaido for the first time on Sunday. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talked to Mr. Guaido two weeks before he declared himself interim president, congratulating him on unifying opposition forces in the country.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office Sunday, the leaders talked of the importance of international partners sending a message about the illegitimacy of Mr. Maduro’s regime. China, Russia, Iran and NATO-ally Turkey continue to back Mr. Maduro, while a number of European Union countries said they would recognize Mr. Guaido if new presidential elections were not announced by late Sunday night.
“Both underscored the importance that free and fair presidential elections be held,” stated the readout of the conversation between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Guaido. The statement said Mr. Guaido thanked Mr. Trudeau for Canada’s role in helping lead the international response.
Canada’s approach to helping Venezuela with a peaceful transition is a marked contrast to the suggestion by the United States that military intervention could be on the table. And the divergent comments from Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump come shortly after thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in Caracas and other cities to protest against Mr. Maduro’s government.
Mr. Maduro had said that Saturday’s anti-government protests are part of a coup attempt led by the United States.
In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Mr. Trump said that military intervention is “an option,” adding that he turned down a request from Mr. Maduro to meet months ago.
Canada rejects the use of military intervention, said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Ms. Freeland.
“We have been clear that the restoration of democracy must be driven by Venezuelans themselves; we do not support military intervention to resolve this crisis,” said Mr. Austen, adding that Canada is seeking a peaceful transition of power.
“We remain committed to working with our partners to support a diplomatic solution to the crisis, particularly through the Lima Group, and with Venezuela’s democratic opposition,” he said.
According to the group’s agenda, the meeting will include a discussion on the political situation in Venezuela and Lima Group members will speak with other international partners, including teleconference appearances by U.S. and EU representatives. There will be a discussion on economic assistance and recovery and there will be a working lunch on the humanitarian and refugee situation.
Canada has contributed $2.2-million toward the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela that has forced three million people from their homes, many seeking refuge in Brazil and Colombia. However, financial assistance is not likely to increase in the immediate future because Mr. Maduro has blocked aid from entering the country. Canada and its Lima Group allies will talk about increasing support to neighbouring countries.
Mr. Guaido said the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta.
U.S national security adviser John Bolton tweeted that the U.S. is mobilizing and transporting humanitarian aid including medicine, surgical supplies and nutritional supplements for the people of Venezuela.
Mr. Bolton also tweeted that the U.S. is calling on all military members to follow General Francisco Esteban Yanez’s lead to desert Mr. Maduro.
The air force commander announced over the weekend that he no longer recognizes Mr. Maduro as President. Mr. Yanez described Mr. Maduro as a dictator in a YouTube video and referred to Mr. Guaido as his president. After the defection, Mr. Guaido encouraged more members of the military to abandon the socialist government.
Meanwhile, Mr. Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections, further escalating tensions with Mr. Guaido who controls the National Assembly and who is demanding a new presidential election.
With reports from The Associated Press