Baird's Venezuela trip cancelled as Chavez back from Cuba
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was to have made first bilateral visit since 1986
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's official visit to Venezuela has been cancelled following the return of the country's president, Hugo Chavez, from medical treatment in Cuba.
Baird was to have met with Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, as well as the executive secretary of the opposition coalition and pro-democracy groups.
In a statement Tuesday, Baird said he had "productive, respectful and meaningful" talks in Cuba, a close ally of Venezuela that he visited last week.
"We hope to find another mutually convenient time to engage with Venezuela on matters related to economic prosperity and human rights," he said.
Chavez returned to Venezuela on Monday after more than two months of treatment in Havana, following cancer surgery. He was taken immediately to a military hospital in Caracas, Venezuela's capital.
Chavez in Cuba since Dec. 10
Chavez supporters celebrated in the streets of Caracas, setting off fireworks, chanting his name and gathering outside the hospital, chanting "he's back!"
Chavez left for Cuba Dec. 10, and Maduro has been running the country in his absence. Chavez has said Maduro should run to replace him if he dies.
Chavez was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, and his inauguration, originally scheduled for Jan. 10, was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers in a decision that the Supreme Court upheld despite complaints by the opposition. Some speculated that with Chavez back, he could finally be sworn in.
Carlo Dade, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's school of international development and global studies, says it's a "delicate time" for Venezuela.
But Baird got something out of the planned visit even though the trip to the country was cancelled, Dade said, by giving an interview over the weekend about his plans to talk to the Venezuelan government about its relationship with Iran. Chavez has courted Iran as an ally.
"On Iran, we have strong views," Baird told The Canadian Press in an interview in which he mentioned concerns about the country's nuclear program, support of terrorism and deteriorating human rights record.
"So I don't think we'll see eye to eye with Venezuela on that."
That interview, Dade suggested, allows Canada to send the same message to the world about Iran that Baird would have sent had he visited the country.
"The Harper government got what they needed. They had a few press quotes showing us talking about Iran and Venezuela," Dade said.
It's not clear if the visit will be rescheduled, although the statement released by Baird's office said it was "postponed."
With files from the Associated Press