Canada considering more Venezuela sanctions, Freeland says
Opposition in Venezuela is fractured after widespread protests this year have affected little change
A regional Latin American grouping on Thursday agreed more steps may be needed to further isolate Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro has been accused of stamping on rights and democracy, said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
She spoke to reporters after a Toronto meeting of the Lima Group, which also includes Canada. The group has already condemned what it calls recent anti-democratic acts by Venezuela's government.
"If necessary, we must put added pressure on the Maduro regime by taking concrete steps to further isolate it from the international community," she said.
Freeland added that Canada was mulling a second round of sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
"Other countries should consider doing so as well," she said.
Last month, Ottawa said it would impose targeted sanctions against 40 Venezuelan senior officials to punish them for "anti-democratic behaviour."
The Lima Group has some 15 members, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Mexico. It is next due to meet in Chile in January.
Last week, the group criticized a nationwide election held in Venezuela, when the ruling Socialist Party took 18 of 23 governorships despite widespread anger over economic hardship that has left millions suffering food shortages, a currency collapse and soaring inflation.
Opposition protests this year have led to 125 deaths, thousands of arrests and injuries, and widespread damage to property and infrastructure.
Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity coalition, which groups several dozen anti-Maduro parties, is starting to fragment, and the Lima Group meeting on Thursday called on groups to work together.
"It's a very important point. The people of Venezuela, in their struggle to re-establish democracy in their country ... deserve an opposition which is united and can represent them effectively," said Freeland.
Governor refuses oath
The newly elected opposition governor of Venezuela's western Zulia state was dismissed on Thursday by the pro-government local state legislature, adding to disarray among foes of the ruling socialists.
The sacking of Juan Pablo Guanipa, one of the five opposition governors to win last week, came after he refused to swear loyalty to an all-powerful national legislative superbody aligned with Maduro's ruling socialists.
"They held a secret, express session to remove him," Guanipa's spokesperson, Erika Gutierrez, told Reuters of the morning meeting of Zulia's state legislature.
Opposition leaders blamed dirty tricks by the government for last week's dominance by the socialists at the polls, including the last-minute moving of many vote centres in opposition areas, along with abstention by supporters disillusioned at the failure of protests earlier this year.
Driving home its advantage, the government said only governors who recognize the supremacy of the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly could take office.
Four opposition governors did that this week, sparking recriminations and bickering within the coalition, but Guanipa said he would never "kneel before the dictatorship."
"This is an assault on the will of the people," he tweeted after his removal on Thursday, denouncing a "coup" in the oil-rich state on the border with Colombia.