Venezuela moves to revoke Canadian diplomat's status, accuses him of meddling

The president of Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly has taken the first step toward expelling a top Canadian diplomat.

Craig Kowalik declared persona non grata, the 1st step in removing his status as diplomat

The president of Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly declared Canadian diplomat Craig Kowalik persona non grata on Saturday, a move which does away with his diplomatic credentials. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The president of Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly has taken the first step toward expelling a top Canadian diplomat.

Delcy Rodriguez declared chargé d'affaires Craig Kowalik persona non grata on Saturday, a move which does away with his diplomatic credentials. Chargé d'affaires is a diplomat who heads an embassy in the absence of the ambassador. 

At the same time, Rodriguez announced Ambassador Ruy Pereira of Brazil would also be considered persona non grata.

The Associated Press reported that Rodriguez accused both Kowalik and Pereira of meddling in the country's politics.

Delcy Rodriguez, president of the National Constituent Assembly, talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas in August. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The Associated Press also reported that Rodriguez said Kowalik has a history of tweeting "rude and vulgar" comments about Venezuela, but it was unclear what tweets she was referring to. A Twitter account that appears to be Kowalik's personal account contains no tweets. 

In Canada, Global Affairs spokesperson Natasha Nystrom said the move to delegitimize Kowalik will not change Canada's focus.

"Our resolve remains unchanged. We will continue to work to address this situation and help the Venezuelan people," she said. "We will continue to work with our partners in the region to apply pressure on the anti-democratic Maduro regime and restore the rights of the Venezuelan people."

Canada sanctioned Rodriguez

Canada has been critical of President Nicolas Maduro​'s ruling party for consolidating power and isolating the country's opposition parties. As well, Canada has protested the Constituent National Assembly, saying it was undemocratically elected last July.

Venezuela — an oil-rich country that was led by outspoken socialist Hugo Chavez from 1999 to 2013 — has suffered an economic meltdown since his death.

The dramatic drop in global oil prices since late 2014 and the devaluation of the country's currency have fuelled triple-digit inflation that has resulted in shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities.

In September, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland announced that Canada had imposed sanctions against 40 key figures in the Venezuelan regime. The list includes both Maduro and Rodriguez.

And in October, Freeland noted that Canada has a role to play in promoting democractic institutions in Venezuela.

"We are seeing real preventable suffering of the people of Venezuela," Freeland said. "And I think … there are mounting signs of a regional refugee crisis as well. Colombia and Brazil are facing a lot of pressure. So I think it is an area where Canada needs to be very engaged."

She went on to appeal to European countries to join Canada in putting pressure on Venezuela.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has been especially critical of Maduro, and, like Canada, imposed sanctions on him and others earlier this year.

"We urge Maduro's regime to respect human rights," the U.S. Embassy tweeted on Saturday, calling for the freedom of 268 people activists consider political prisoners.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters