Power & Politics

Canada, U.S. working to move EU toward sanctions on Venezuela, says top U.S. official

The U.S. special representative for Venezuela says the U.S. and Canada have strategized on how to move the European Union toward imposing sanctions on Venezuela's Maduro regime.

Europe is a 'kind of playground' for the Maduro regime, says Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams is the U.S. special representative for Venezuela. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump's special representative for Venezuela says Canada and the U.S. are strategizing on how to move the European Union toward imposing sanctions on the Nicolás Maduro regime.

"We both agreed that it would be really helpful if the EU would follow Canada and the U.S. in imposing sanctions on the Maduro regime," said Elliott Abrams in an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"Europe is a kind of playground for people from the regime and their families — where their money is, they have houses there, they live the high life there — which is really disgraceful. So we strategized a bit about how, with the help of the Latin American democracies, to move the EU in that direction," Abrams told guest host Katie Simpson.

When asked for comment, Global Affairs Canada did not directly address the remarks made by Abrams.

"Canadian government officials discussed how Canada and the U.S. can work with the broader international community to return democracy to the people of Venezuela," said Barbara Harvey, a spokesperson for Global Affairs.

"For some time, the Lima Group has been engaging its partners around the world in support of sanctions and other measures to pressure the Maduro regime," said Harvey.

The Lima Group is made up of 14 countries, including Canada, and has been working to support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in his effort to wrest control of the country away from the Maduro regime.

Abrams said Canada and the U.S. also agreed to other concrete steps on Venezuela that he won't talk about.

Contrasting views on Cuba

Despite the efforts of the Lima Group and the U.S., the embattled Maduro regime still enjoys the support of several countries, including Cuba.

Earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Cuba could play a role in a peaceful transition in Venezuela resulting in free and fair elections.

"We wish you luck," said Abrams, when asked what he thought of Freeland's position. "We're very pessimistic about it. The Cubans seem to be the dead-enders on Venezuela."

Abrams said there are between 2,000 and 3,000 Cuban intelligence agents in Caracas, permeating intelligence agencies, the army and the national guard. 

"To show you how deep in they are, Maduro's body guards aren't Venezuelan. They're Cuban. So, they're very important to holding this regime together and we really think that if they weren't there it would start to fall apart," said Abrams.

Canada's former ambassador to Venezuela Ben Rowswell said there's certainly ground for pessimism about Cuba's role, but added it's important to explore all opportunities.

"The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have a really deep strategic connection where both regimes, since neither of them are elected, seem to depend on each other for regime survival," he said in an interview with CBC News.

"But there is a very serious, intense crisis in Venezuela and it's important to seek all diplomatic, non-military options," said Rowswell.

Such options, Rowswell said, could help Venezuelans transition to a government whose legitimacy they accept.

Military intervention?

On sanctions, Rowswell said it makes sense for Canada and the U.S. to be collaborating, but cautions there are some significant differences that remain between Canadian and American policy on Venezuela.

"One of them is that the U.S. keeping open the threat of unilateral military intervention, which Canada is opposed to."

Trump said earlier this year that the U.S. seeks a peaceful transition, but all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela.

On Thursday, Abrams said it's always going to be the case that the the military intervention option is on the table, but that it doesn't represent U.S. policy on Venezuela.

"Our policy is to put diplomatic, political, economic and international pressure on the regime. We are still doing that. We announced sanctions a few days ago. There will be more in the coming days. So, that's the policy. But you know, the option - the president can't say there is no option on the table, there is," said Abrams.

Abrams was in Ottawa to meet with Canadian officials ahead of next week's meeting on Venezuela in Peru.

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