Ottawa attempts to reboot campaign to remove Maduro from power in Venezuela

Canada's foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said today that he was hosting the Lima Group of nations in Canada to "reinvigorate" efforts to remove the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Canada leads meeting of Lima Group to discuss next steps

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks during the closing news conference at the Lima Group Ministerial meetings in Gatineau, Que., Feb. 20, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne hosted delegates from the Lima Group of nations in Gatineau, Que. today — part of what he called a campaign to "reinvigorate" efforts to remove the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Those efforts seem to have lost some momentum over the past year, after Juan Guaidó took the oath of office as acting president of Venezuela.

Foreign ministers and envoys from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Lucia and Venezuela joined Champagne at the Museum of History across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.

Today, the Lima Group ministers censured Venezuela's government for leading the country "down a path of economic collapse, human rights abuses, increased criminality and environmental destruction."

Canada and other Lima Group members have accused the Maduro government of generating income to remain in power by allowing reckless and destructive mining for gold, coltan and other minerals in ecologically-sensitive parts of the country's Orinoquia and Amazon regions.

Canada and the other members of the Lima Group were quick to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate leader, as were the nations of the European Union and the United States. But it's still Nicolas Maduro who sits ensconced in the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, while Guaidó faces a steady barrage of police and mob harassment.

Guaidó experienced some of that when he returned to Venezuela on February 11, after a trip that brought him to Ottawa.

The Maduro government has shied away from crossing one red line that was set when the U.S. government said it would respond harshly to any attempts to detain or physically harm Guaidó. But authorities in Venezuela frequently skate right up to that line and arrest or assault those close to him. His uncle Juan Marquez, who was travelling with Guaidó on his return to Venezuela, was arrested Feb. 11. This morning, police raided Marquez's home.

Canada called the meeting of the Lima Group to try to keep the group's efforts going after a year of changes in its membership — and little progress on the ground in Venezuela.

Eighteen governments attended — a relatively high number for a group which has seen its membership fluctuate as governments with different views on the Venezuelan crisis have won or lost elections in their own countries.

Juan Guaidó (centre) was in Ottawa for talks at the end of January. Here he meets with Lima group ambassadors at the home of Colombia’s ambassador to Canada. (Evan Dyer)

A pro-Maduro government in Bolivia was replaced by an anti-Maduro acting government following a street rebellion in October. So Bolivia — which once denounced the Lima Group as a tool of imperialism — sent its new foreign minister Karen Longaric Rodriguez to Ottawa.

Mexico, a founding member of the Lima Group, did not attend. Its president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who came to power at the end of 2018, has taken Mexico to the left and drifted away from the group.

Argentina also has taken a sharp turn to the left, re-electing a party that was once close to the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. But that government appears to have lost its enthusiasm for its erstwhile Venezuelan allies; Argentina was also represented at today's meeting.

No new strategy

What was lacking, however, was a new strategy or any new measures that might increase the pressure on the Maduro government, other than a commitment to keep on talking.

"In the coming days and weeks," said a joint statement issued today, "representatives of the Lima Group will engage in an intensive period of outreach and consultation with all countries that have an interest in the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

"We believe it is time to send a clear and unequivocal message to Venezuelans that the time is now to end this crisis and that the international community stands ready to support this process."

Venezuela's population has continued to decline as millions of people leave the country in search of better lives; many of them have walked across the country's borders with Colombia and Brazil. Many of the South American countries represented in today's meeting are struggling to accommodate large numbers of Venezuelan migrants.


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