Opinion

Today, Canada decides to stand up for human rights in... (spins wheel) Venezuela: Neil Macdonald

Surely, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau realizes that in using the terms "violation of human rights and the complete disregard of rule of law," he's describing a whole gang of the world's governments — not just Venezuela's.

Maduro is a thug, of course, but he's one of many, including those with whom Canada chooses to do business

Surely Trudeau realizes that in using the terms "violation of human rights and the complete disregard of rule of law," he's describing a whole gang of the world's governments — not just Venezuela's. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems most comfortable when he's signalling virtue or delivering Captain-Kirk-like lectures on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

So, our prime minister was in a happy place Monday, opening Ottawa meetings of the Lima Group, whose effective purpose is getting rid of the Maduro regime in Venezuela. As far as its members are concerned, the opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido is not just the country's new leader, but a member of their group.

"For years now," Trudeau said in his opening remarks, "we've witnessed the breakdown of democracy in Venezuela and a dictatorship willing to use force, fear and coercion to retain power."

As he continued, his outrage at Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's affront to basic humanity bubbled up.

"The violation of human rights and the complete disregard for the rule of law shown by the regime has been both inexcusable and unacceptable," he thundered, if it's possible to thunder in Trudeau's signature tones of tolerance, decency and optimism.

Not that Trudeau's characterization of the Maduro regime is particularly inaccurate.

Maduro's Venezuela

The former bus driver and union leader who took over from his mentor, the mildly unhinged Hugo Chavez, is just another dreary tyrant, the type usually referred to as a "strongman" by cliché-loving journalists.

He's a thug, a Cuban-communist-trained thug loathed by the American government, which has, of course, endeared him to the political left in the West, which sees his struggle to hold power as just the latest effort in a long history of campaigns by the U.S. military-industrial establishment to eradicate leftism (otherwise known as the will of the people) in Latin America, and, in this case, grab Venezuela's oil riches, or at least install a pro-Washington puppet in Caracas who'll open the country to rapacious American free marketeers.

But he is nonetheless a thug. He actually personifies how fascists and Marxists, when they indulge their hunger for power, start behaving alike. Just look at how Maduro, champion of the poor, has unleashed murderous military squads in the country's angry slums, once a fortress of Chavez support. (Presumably, Venezuela's poor and downtrodden are now secretly working for the CIA, which Maduro claims is running the campaign to unseat him.)

In any case, Washington, along with Canada, a slew of European countries, and 12 Central and South American governments, has decided Maduro must go.

Evidently, given the notes U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton carelessly left visible around cameras recently, U.S. President Donald Trump is contemplating sending several thousand troops to the region (Trump has yet to start a war, but is openly acknowledging it's an option in Venezuela).

And, seeing the critical mass of nations forming around Maduro's ouster, the Western media has deferentially joined in.

Few people, of course, are asking: "Why just Venezuela?"

Why just Maduro? Surely, Trudeau realizes that in using the terms "violation of human rights and the complete disregard of rule of law," he's describing a whole gang of the world's governments, including some of the biggest ones.

Let's ignore the lowest-hanging and ripest fruit, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to which Canada is eagerly selling billions in military materiel and weaponry.

Let's look instead at, say, Egypt, a country Canada and the Western Allies treat with gravity and respect.

If Nicolas Maduro is guilty of repression constituting crimes against humanity, as an Organization of American States report asserts, then so is former Field Marshal el-Sisi. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, grabbed power from the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi in a coup d'etat, cheered on by Washington.

El-Sisi has tortured and killed thousands of followers of Morsi's Islamic Brotherhood, most of the rest of whom rot in prison, along with Morsi.

If Maduro is guilty of repression constituting crimes against humanity, as an Organization of American States report asserts, then so is former field marshal el-Sisi.

As Maduro did recently, el-Sisi won by making sure his opponents couldn't legally run against him.  

Like Maduro, el-Sisi governs by decree. Freedom House, with a gift for understatement, has characterized media in both countries as "not free."

Unlike Maduro, though, el-Sisi's violence and repression serves America's desire for what is euphemistically described as "Middle Eastern stability." And Canada is right there with Washington, smiling and encouraging the tyrant in Cairo.

Human rights in Egypt

A report on Egypt by the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, after a 2017 trip led by Liberal MP and association co-chair Robert Oliphant, is almost comically obsequious.

It describes el-Sisi's rise to power in the most anodyne terms, and, without comment, quotes the driest imaginable statistics about human rights and freedom of expression in Egypt.

It then describes a convivial meeting the parliamentarians held with el-Sisi, during which he "indicated that, in his opinion, the press was almost too free, by which he meant that it lacked professionalism as would be understood in the West, was generally not well trained, and that freedom of the press was becoming 'anarchy of the press' without accountability or transparency."

Sound familiar? It's almost as though the Egyptian media is the enemy of the people, or something.

The report continued: "As for human rights, the president said he understood the Canadian values related to human rights, but also said that, at this time, his priority was ensuring … safety and security for Egypt."

Mmm-hmm. There's a novel justification.

Several paragraphs later, having just about entirely elided the regime's pathologies, the report, evidently without irony, "nonetheless congratulates Egypt for seeking to build a more united and pluralistic country … While much work remains to be done, the Association believes Canada can support Egypt."

Maduro, though, must go, because, you know, rule of law, human rights, Canadian values, etc.

It's naïve to expect consistency from any politician. But honestly. Just a few weeks ago, at a town hall at an Ontario university, Trudeau delivered a tart condemnation of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which wants to pressure Israel into ending its subjugation of Palestinians.

The BDS supporters, said Trudeau, seek to single out and delegitimize one country for the behaviour of its government. And that, he said, is contrary to Canadian values.


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

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