Step aside USA, Canada is the new bully in our South American ‘backyard’

Is this the new face of the Ugly Canadian?
Photo by G20 Argentina

Many Canadians are familiar with the Monroe Doctrine. First issued by the United States in 1823, it warned European powers against renewed colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Presented as anti-imperialist, the Monroe Doctrine was later used to justify US interference in regional affairs.

We may be seeing the development of a Canadian equivalent. The ‘Trudeau Doctrine’ claims to support a “rules-based order”, the “constitution” and regional diplomacy independent of the US. But, history is likely to judge the rhetoric of the Trudeau Doctrine as little more than a mask for aggressive interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

For two years Canada’s Prime Minister has been conspiring with Juan Guaidó’s hardline Voluntad Popular party to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro. In May 2017 Trudeau met Lilian Tintori, wife of Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo López. The Guardian recently reported on Tintori’s role in building international support for the slow-motion coup attempt currently underway in Venezuela. Tintori acted as an emissary for Lopez who couldn’t travel to Ottawa because he was convicted of inciting violence during the “guarimbas” protests in 2014. According to a series of reports, Lopez is the key Venezuelan organizer of the plan to anoint Guaidó interim president. Canadian diplomats spent “months”, reports the Canadian Press, coordinating the plan with the hard-line opposition. In a story titled “Anti-Maduro coalition grew from secret talks”, the Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for claiming the head of the national assembly was president. This included Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaking to Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”

Just before the recent Lima Group meeting in Ottawa Trudeau spoke with Guaidó and at the meeting of countries opposed to Venezuela’s president he announced that Canada officially recognized Guaido’s representative to Canada, Orlando Viera Blanco, as ambassador. The PM has called the leaders of France, Spain, Paraguay, Ireland, Colombia and Italy as well as the International Monetary Fund and European Union to convince them to join Canada’s campaign against Venezuela. “The international community must immediately unite behind the interim president”, Trudeau declared at the opening of the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa.

At the UN General Assembly in September Canada announced it (with five South American nations) would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate the Venezuelan government, which is the first time a government has been formally brought before the tribunal by another member. Trudeau portrayed this move as a challenge to the Trump administration’s hostility to the court and described the ICC as a “useful and important way of promoting an international rules-based order.” In other words, Trudeau would challenge Washington by showing Trump how the “international rules-based” ICC could undermine a government the US was seeking to overthrow through unilateral sanctions, support for the opposition and threatening an invasion, which all contravene the UN Charter.

While Trudeau claims to support an “international rules-based order”, his government has adopted three rounds of illegal sanctions against Venezuela. It has also openly interfered in the country’s affairs, which violates the UN and OAS charters.

The Trudeau Doctrine emphasizes its interpretation of Venezuela’s constitution. On a whole series of platforms the Prime Minister has cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution”, even responding to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he claims makes the head of the National Assembly president. It doesn’t.

More fundamental to the Trudeau Doctrine is the mirage of a regional coalition independent of the regional hegemon – the United States.

Ottawa founded the anti-Maduro Lima Group coalition with Peru. Amidst discussions between the two countries foreign ministers in Spring 2017, Trudeau called his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, to “‎stress the need for dialogue and respect for the democratic rights of Venezuelan citizens, as enshrined in the charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” But the Lima Group was established as a structure outside of the OAS largely because that organization’s members refused to back Washington and Ottawa’s bid to interfere in Venezuelan affairs, which they believe defy the OAS’ charter.

While many liberal Canadian commentators promote the idea that the Lima Group operates independently of Washington, their US counterparts are not deceived. In a story titled “Intervening Against Venezuela’s Strongman, Trump Belies ‘America First’” the New York Times described US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s influence over the Lima Group declaration of January 4 that rejected Maduro’s presidency. The paper reported that Pompeo is in “close contact with” Freeland “who has played a leading role in rallying global criticism of Mr. Maduro.”

The claim the Lima Group is independent of Washington conjures up a story Jean Chrétien recounts telling US President Bill Clinton in My Years as Prime Minister: “Keeping some distance will be good for both of us. If we look as though we’re the fifty-first state of the United States, there’s nothing we can do for you internationally, just as the governor of a state can’t do anything for you internationally. But if we look independent enough, we can do things for you that even the CIA cannot do.”

While currently focused on Venezuela, the nascent Trudeau Doctrine has wider regional implications. Freeland has justified Canada’s aggressive interference in Venezuela’s affairs by saying “this is our neighbourhood” while Trudeau’s personal representative for the G7 Summits and recent appointee to the Senate, Peter Boehm told CBC, “this is our backyard, the Western hemisphere. We have a role here.”

Describing Latin America as “our backyard” is the language favoured by so-called Ugly American politicians seeking to assert the Monroe Doctrine. Latin Americans should beware of the emergence of Ugly Canadians promoting the Trudeau Doctrine.

On February 23 protests are planned in Canada and around the world calling for “No War on Venezuela!”

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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Canadian policy on Venezuela, Haiti reveals hypocrisy that media ignores

Haitian protester waves Venezuela flag in solidarity with Maduro

If the dominant media was serious about holding the Canadian government to account for its foreign policy decisions, there would be numerous stories pointing out the hypocrisy of Ottawa’s response to recent political developments in Haiti and Venezuela.

Instead silence, or worse, cheer-leading.

Venezuela is a deeply divided society. Maybe a quarter of Venezuelans want the president removed by (almost) any means. A similar proportion backs Nicolas Maduro. A larger share of the population oscillates between these two poles, though they generally prefer the president to opposition forces that support economic sanctions and a possible invasion.

There are many legitimate criticisms of Maduro, including questions about his electoral bonafides after a presidential recall referendum was scuttled and the Constituent Assembly usurped the power of the opposition dominated National Assembly (of course many opposition actors’ democratic credentials are far more tainted). But, the presidential election in May demonstrates that Maduro and his PSUV party maintain considerable support. Despite the opposition boycott, the turnout was over 40% and Maduro received a higher proportion of the overall vote than leaders in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Additionally, Venezuela has an efficient and transparent electoral system — “best in the world” according to Jimmy Carter in 2012 — and it was the government that requested more international electoral observers.

Unlike Venezuela, Haiti is not divided. Basically, everyone wants the current “president” to go. While the slums have made that clear for months, important segments of the establishment (Reginald Boulos, Youri Latortue, Chamber of Commerce, etc) have turned on Jovenel Moïse. Reliable polling is limited, but it’s possible 9 in 10 Haitians want President Moïse to leave immediately. Many of them are strongly committed to that view, which is why the country’s urban areas have been largely paralyzed since February 7.

In a bid to squelch the protests, government forces (and their allies) have killed dozens in recent months. If you include the terrible massacre reported here and here in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline on November 11-13 that number rises far above 100.

Even prior to recent protests the president’s claim to legitimacy was paper-thin. Moïse assumed the job through voter suppression and electoral  fraud. Voter turnout was 18%. His predecessor and sponsor, Michel Martelly, only held elections after significant protests. For his part, Martelly took office with about 16 per cent of the vote, since the election was largely boycotted. After the first round, US and Canadian representatives pressured the electoral council to replace the second-place candidate, Jude Celestin, with Martelly in the runoff.

While you won’t have read about it in the mainstream media, recent protests in Haiti are connected to Venezuela. The protesters’ main demand is accountability for the billions of dollars pilfered from Petrocaribe, a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela in 2006. In the summer demonstrators forced out Moïse’s prime minister over an effort to eliminate fuel subsidies and calls for the president to go have swelled since then. Adding to popular disgust with Moïse, his government succumbed to US/Canadian pressure to vote against Venezuela at the OAS last month.

So what has been Ottawa’s response to the popular protests in Haiti? Has Global Affairs Canada released a statement supporting the will of the people? Has Canada built a regional coalition to remove the president? Has Canada’s PM called other international leaders to lobby them to join his effort to remove Haiti’s President? Have they made a major aid announcement designed to elicit regime change? Have they asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the Haitian government? Has Justin Trudeau called the Haitian President a “brutal dictator”?

In fact, it’s the exact opposite to the situation in Venezuela. The only reason the Haitian president is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”. Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released a statement  last week “acknowledging the professionalism shown by the Haitian National Police.” The statement condescendingly “reiterated the fact that in a democracy change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence.” The “Core Group’s” previous responses  to the protests expressed stronger support of the unpopular government. As I detailed  10 weeks ago in a story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Ottawa has provided countless forms of support to Moïse’s unpopular government. Since then Justin Trudeau had a “very productive meeting” with Haitian Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant, International development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau‏ declared a desire to “come to the aid” of the Haitian government and Global Affairs Canada released a statement declaring that “acts of political violence have no place in the democratic process.” Trudeau’s government has provided various forms of support to the repressive police that maintains Moïse’s rule. Since Paul Martin’s Liberals played an important role  in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004 Canada has financed, trained and overseen the Haitian National Police. As took place  the night Aristide was forced out of the country by US Marines, Canadian troops  were recently photographed  patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport.

Taking their cue from Ottawa, the dominant media have downplayed the scope of the recent protests and repression in Haiti. There have been few (any?) stories about protesters putting their bodies on the line for freedom and the greater good. Instead the media has focused on the difficulties faced by a small number of Canadian tourists, missionaries and aid workers. While the long-impoverished country of 12 million people is going through a very important political moment, Canada’s racist/nationalist media is engrossed in the plight of Canucks stuck at an all-inclusive resort!

The incredible hypocrisy in Ottawa’s response to recent political developments in Haiti and Venezuela is shameful. Why has no major media dared contrast the two?

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Mainstream media boosts Trudeau’s popularity over Venezuela

US presidents have bombed or invaded places like Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Sudan to distract from domestic scandals or to gain a quick boost in popularity. But, do Canadian politicians also pursue regime change abroad to be cheered on by the dominant media as decisive leaders?

In a discussion on regime change in Venezuela after last Monday’s “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole praised Canadian policy but added that the Liberals used the meeting of countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro’s government to drown out criticism of their foreign policy. O’Toole claimed the “Lima Group” meeting was “put together quite quickly and I think there are some politics behind that with some of the foreign affairs challenges the Trudeau government has been having in recent months.” In other words, O’Toole believes the Liberals organized a gathering that concluded with a call for the military to oust Venezuela’s elected president to appear like effective international players.

Understood within the broader corporate and geopolitical context, O’Toole’s assessment appears reasonable. After being criticized for its China policy, the Liberals have been widely praised for their regime change efforts in Venezuela. In a sign of media cheerleading, CTV News host Don Martin began his post “Lima Group” interview with foreign minister Chrystia Freeland by stating “the Lima summit has wrapped and the object of regime change is staying put for the time being” and then he asked her “is [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro any step closer to being kicked out of office as a result of this meeting today?” Later in the interview Martin applauded the “Lima Group’s” bid “to put the economic pincers around it [Venezuela’s economy] and choking it off from international transactions.”

In recent days Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador in Caracas, has been widely quoted praising the Liberals’ leadership on Venezuela. “It’s clear that the international community is paying attention to what Canada has to say about human rights and democracy,” Rowswell was quoted as saying in an article titled “Trudeau’s Venezuela diplomacy is a bright spot amid China furor”.

Rowswell heads the Canadian International Council, which seeks to “integrate business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders”, according to its billionaire financier Jim Balsillie. Long an influential voice on foreign policy, CIC hosted the above-mentioned forum with O’Toole that also included the Liberal’s junior foreign minister Andrew Leslie and NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière. CIC’s post “Lima Group” meeting forum was co-sponsored with the Canadian Council of the Americas, which is led by Kinross, Kinross, ScotiaBank, KPMG and SNC Lavalin. On the day of the “Lima Group” meeting CCA head Ken Frankel published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail headlined “Venezuela crisis will be a true test of Canada’s leadership in the hemisphere.” Frankel told CPAC he was “always supportive of Canadian leadership in the Hemisphere” and “the Venezuela situation has presented … a perfect opportunity for the Trudeau government to showcase the principles of its foreign policy.”

At the CCA/CIC forum Laverdière made it clear there’s little official political opposition to Ottawa’s regime change efforts. The NDP’s foreign critic agreed with Canada’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, as she did on Twitter, at a press scrum and on CPAC during the day of the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa. (Amidst criticism from NDP activists, party leader Jagmeet Singh later equivocated on explicitly recognizing Guaidó.)

With the NDP, Conservatives, CIC, CCA, most media, etc. supporting regime change in Venezuela, there is little downside for the Liberals to push an issue they believe boosts their international brand. To get a sense of their brashness, the day of the “Lima Group” meeting the iconic CN Tower in Toronto was lit up with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. A tweet from Global Affairs Canada explained, “As the sun sets on today’s historic Lima Group meeting, Venezuela’s colours shine bright on Canada’s CN Tower to show our support for the people of Venezuela and their fight for democracy.”

The Liberals drive for regime change in Venezuela to mask other foreign-policy problem is reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s push to bomb Libya. Facing criticism for weakening Canada’s moral reputation and failing to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a Canadian general oversaw NATO’s war, seven  CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast.

The mission, which began six weeks before the 2011 federal election, may have helped the Conservatives win a majority government. At the time Postmedia published a story titled “Libya ‘photo op’ gives Harper advantage: experts” and Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom published a commentary titled “Libyan war could be a winner for Harper”.  He wrote: “War fits with the Conservative storyline of Harper as a strong, decisive leader. War against a notorious villain contradicts opposition charges of Conservative moral bankruptcy. The inevitable media stories of brave Canadian pilots and grateful Libyan rebels can only distract attention from the Conservative government’s real failings.”

Similar to Venezuela today, the regime change effort in Libya was unanimously endorsed in Parliament (three months into the bombing campaign Green Party MP Elizabeth May voted against a second resolution endorsing a continuation of the war). “It’s appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do,’’ said NDP leader Jack Layton. After Moammar Gaddafi was savagely killed six months later, NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”

Emboldened by the opposition parties, the Conservatives organized a nationally televised post-war celebration for Canada’s “military heroes”, which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Calling it “a day of honour”, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success.”

Today Libya is, of course, a disaster. It is still divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million.

But who in Canada ever paid a political price for the destruction of that country and resulting destabilization of much of the Sahel region of Africa?

A similar scenario could develop in Venezuela. Canadian politicians’ push for the military to remove the president could easily slide into civil war and pave the way to a foreign invasion that leads to a humanitarian calamity. If that happened, Canadian politicians, as in Libya, would simply wash their hands of the intervention.

Canadians need to reflect on a political culture in which governing parties encourage regime change abroad with an eye to their domestic standing.

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Corporate Canada behind slow motion coup attempt in Venezuela

It’s convenient but incorrect to simply blame the USA for Ottawa’s nefarious role in the slow motion attempted coup currently underway in Venezuela.

Critics of the Liberal government’s push for regime change in Venezuela generally focus on their deference to Washington. But, Ottawa’s hostility to Caracas is also motivated by important segments of corporate Canada, which have long been at odds with its Bolivarian government.

In a bid for a greater share of oil revenue, Venezuela forced private oil companies to become minority partners with the state oil company in 2007. This prompted Calgary-based PetroCanada to sell its portion of an oil project and for Canadian officials to privately complain about feeling “burned” by the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela has the largest recognized oil reserves in the world. The country also has enormous gold deposits.

A number of Canadian companies clashed with Hugo Chavez’ government over its bid to gain greater control over gold extraction. Crystallex, Vanessa Ventures, Gold Reserve Inc. and Rusoro Mining all had prolonged legal battles with the Venezuelan government. In 2016 Rusoro Mining won a $1 billion claim under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. That same year Crystallex was awarded $1.2 billion under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. Both companies continue to pursue payments and have pursued the money from Citgo, the Venezuelan government owned gasoline retailer in the US.

In 2011 the Financial Post reported, “years after pushing foreign investment away from his gold mining sector, Venezuelan President Chavez is moving on to the next stage: outright nationalization.” Highlighting its importance to Canadian capital, the Globe and Mail editorial board criticized the move in a piece titled “Chavez nationalizes all gold mines in Venezuela.”

In a further sign of the Canadian mining sector’s hostility to the Venezuelan government, Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk wrote a 2007 letter to the Financial Times headlined “Stop Chavez’ Demagoguery Before it is Too Late”: “Your editorial ‘Chavez in Control’ was way too benign a characterization of a dangerous dictator — the latest of a type who takes over a nation through the democratic process, and then perverts or abolishes it to perpetuate his own power … aren’t we ignoring the lessons of history and forgetting that the dictators Hitler, Mugabe, Pol Pot and so on became heads of state by a democratic process? … autocratic demagogues in the Chavez mode get away with [it] until their countries become totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Slobadan Milosevic’s Serbia … Let us not give President Chavez a chance to do the same step- by-step transformation of Venezuela.” A year earlier, the leading Canadian capitalist told Barrick’s shareholders he’d prefer to invest in the (Taliban controlled) western part of Pakistan than in Venezuela or Bolivia. “If I had the choice to put my money in one of the Latin American countries run by (Bolivian President) Evo Morales or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — I know where I’d put my buck,” said Munk, referring to moves to increase the public stake in resource extraction to the detriment of foreign investors.

Benefiting from the privatization of state-run mining companies and loosened restrictions on foreign investment, Canadian mining investment in Latin America has exploded since the 1990s. No Canadian mining firm operated in Peru or Mexico at the start of the 1990s yet by 2010 there were nearly 600 Canadian mining firms in those two countries. Canadian mining companies have tens of billions of dollars invested in the Americas. Any government in the region that reverses the neoliberal reforms that enabled this growth is a threat to Canadian mining profits.

Corporate Canada’s most powerful sector was none too pleased with Chavez’ socialistic and nationalistic policies. Alongside Canadian mining growth, Canadian banks expanded their operations in a number of Latin American countries to do more business with Canadian mining clients. More generally, Canadian banks have benefited from the liberalization of foreign investment rules and banking regulations in the region. A few days after Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe and Mail Report on Business published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: “Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.” While Scotiabank is a powerhouse in Latin America, Canada’s other big banks also do significant business in the region.

At the height of the left-right ideological competition in the region the Stephen Harper government devoted significant effort to strengthening the region’s right-wing governments. Ottawa increased aid to Latin America largely to stunt growing rejection of neoliberal capitalism and in 2010 trade minister Peter Van Loan admitted that the “secondary” goal of Canada’s free trade agreement with Colombia was to bolster that country’s right-wing government against its Venezuelan neighbour. The Globe and Mail explained: “The Canadian government’s desire to bolster fledgling free-market democracies in Latin America in an ideological competition with left-leaning, authoritarian nationalists like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is rarely expressed with force, even though it is at the heart of an Ottawa initiative.” An unnamed Conservative told the paper: “For countries like Peru and Colombia that are trying be helpful in the region, I think everybody’s trying to keep them attached to the free-market side of the debate in Latin America, rather than sloshing them over into the Bolivarian [Venezuelan] side.”

Ottawa wants to crush the independent/socialistic developments in Venezuela. More generally, the growth of Canadian mining, banking and other sectors in Latin America has pushed Ottawa towards a more aggressive posture in the region. So, while it is true that Canada often does the bidding of its US puppet master, capitalists in the Great White North are also independent actors seeking to fill their own pockets and thwart the will of the Venezuelan people.

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Canadian interference in Venezuela domestic affairs decades old

According to the official story that the Liberal government and most of the mainstream media have been trying to sell, Ottawa recently recognized the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly as that country’s president because Nicolas Maduro suspended the constitution 18 months ago and thus lost legitimacy. Thus, Ottawa intervened aggressively to re-establish democratic order there. But this narrative of Canada’s involvement omits its long-standing hostility to the Venezuelan government.

In recent days Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, has repeatedly claimed that Canada’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government began with Maduro’s call for a Constituent Assembly in July 2017, which Rowswell considers illegitimate. Canada’s “approach to democracy promotion … can be traced to the summer of 2017, when Nicolas Maduro suspended the constitutional order,” he wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed.

Ottawa wasn’t overly concerned about democracy in April 2002 when a military coup took Chavez prisoner and imposed an unelected government.

But Rowswell knows this is not true. In fact, when he departed as ambassador in July 2017, he sang a different tune, boasting that “we established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

At the time, Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen, that anti-Maduro forces need not worry about his departure, “I don’t think they have anything to worry about because Minister (of Foreign Affairs Chrystia) Freeland has Venezuela way at the top of her priority list.”

Direct Canadian assistance to the opposition dates to at least the mid-2000s. In January 2005, Foreign Affairs invited Maria Corina Machado to Ottawa. Machado was in charge of Súmate, an organization at the forefront of efforts to remove Hugo Chavez as president. Just prior to this invitation, Súmate had led an unsuccessful campaign to recall Chavez through a referendum in August 2004. Before that, Machado’s name appeared on a list of people who endorsed the 2002 coup, for which she faced charges of treason. She denied signing the now-infamous Carmona Decree that dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and suspended the elected government, the attorney general, comptroller general, and governors as well as mayors elected during Chavez’s administration. It also annulled land reforms and reversed increases in royalties paid by oil companies.

Canada also helped finance Súmate. According to disclosures made in response to a question by NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough, Canada gave Súmate $22,000 in 2005–06. Minister of International Cooperation José Verner explained that “Canada considered Súmate to be an experienced NGO with the capability to promote respect for democracy, particularly a free and fair electoral process in Venezuela.”

Alongside large sums from Washington, Canada has provided millions of dollars to groups opposed to the Venezuelan government over the past 15 years. The foremost researcher on U.S. funding to opposition groups in Venezuela, Eva Golinger, cited Canada’s role, and according to a May 2010 report from Spanish NGO Fride, “Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance” to Venezuela after the U.S. and Spain.

In a 2011 International Journal article Neil A. Burron describes an interview with a Canadian “official [who] repeatedly expressed concerns about the quality of democracy in Venezuela, noting that the [federal government’s] Glyn Berry program provided funds to a ‘get out the vote’ campaign in the last round of elections in that country.” You can bet it wasn’t designed to get Chavez supporters to the polls.

Ottawa wasn’t overly concerned about democracy in April 2002 when a military coup took Chavez prisoner and imposed an unelected government. It lasted only two days before popular demonstrations, a split within the army, and international condemnation returned the elected government. While most Latin American leaders condemned the coup, Canadian diplomats were silent.

“In the Venezuelan coup in 2002, Canada maintained a low profile, probably because it was sensitive to the United States ambivalence towards Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez,” writes Flavie Major in the book Promoting Democracy in the Americas.

The Stephen Harper government didn’t hide its hostility to Chavez. When Chavez was re-elected president with 63 per cent of the vote in December 2006, 32 members of the Organization of American States — which monitored the election — supported a resolution to congratulate him. Canada was the only member to join the U.S. in opposing the message.

Just after Chavez’s re-election, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs, Thomas Shannon, called Canada “a country that can deliver messages that can resonate in ways that sometimes our messages don’t for historical or psychological reasons.” Six months later Harper toured South America to help stunt the region’s rejection of neoliberalism and U.S. dependence. (“To show [the region] that Canada functions and that it can be a better model than Venezuela,” in the words of a high-level Foreign Affairs official quoted by Le Devoir.)

During the trip, Harper and his entourage made a number of comments critical of the Chavez government. Afterwards the prime minister continued to demonize a government that had massively expanded the population’s access to health and education services. In April 2009 Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, “I don’t take any of these rogue states lightly.” A month earlier, the prime minister referred to the far-right Colombian government as a valuable “ally” in a hemisphere full of “serious enemies and opponents.”

After meeting opposition figures in January 2010, Minister for the Americas Peter Kent told the media, “Democratic space within Venezuela has been shrinking and in this election year, Canada is very concerned about the rights of all Venezuelans to participate in the democratic process.”

“During my recent visit to Venezuela, I heard many individuals and organizations express concerns related to violations of the right to freedom of expression and other basic liberties,” said Kent.

Virginie Levesque, a spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Venezuela, also accused the Chavez government of complicity with racism against Jews.

“The Canadian Embassy has encouraged and continues to encourage the Venezuelan government to follow through on its commitment to reject and combat anti-Semitism and to do its utmost to ensure the security of the Jewish community and its religious and cultural centers” said Levesque.

Even the head of Canada’s military joined the onslaught of condemnation against Venezuela. After a tour of South America in early 2010, Walter Natynczyk wrote:,“Regrettably, some countries, such as Venezuela, are experiencing the politicization of their armed forces.” (A Canadian general criticizing another country’s military is, of course, not political.)

After Chavez died in 2013 Harper declared that Venezuelans “can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.” And when Maduro won the presidential election later that year Ottawa called for a recount, refusing to at first to recognize the results.

Canada’s bid to oust Venezuela’s elected president is not new. These efforts have grown over the past year and a half mostly because of Venezuela’s economic troubles, the rightward shift in the region, and Donald Trump’s hawkishness on the issue.

This report first appeared on Ricochet

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What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you about Venezuela

The corporate media is wholeheartedly behind the federal government’s push for regime change in Venezuela. The propaganda is thick and, as per usual, it is as much about what they don’t, as what they do, report. Here are some important developments that have largely been ignored by Canada’s dominant media:

  • At the Organization of American States meeting called by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 25 the Canadian-backed interventionist resolution was defeated 18-16.
  • The “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected president was established 18 months ago after Washington, Ottawa and others failed to garner the votes necessary to censure Venezuela at the OAS (despite the head of the OAS’s extreme hostility to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro).
  • Most of the world’s countries, with most of the world’s population, have failed to support the US/Canada push torecognize National Assembly head Juan Guaidóas president of Venezuela.
  • The UN and OAS charters preclude unilateral sanctions and interfering in other countries’ affairs.
  • UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, recently condemned US/Canadian sanctions on Venezuela.

As well, here are some flagrant double standards in Canadian policy the media have largely ignored:

  • “Lima Group” member Jair Bolsonaro won the recent presidential election in Brazil largely because the most popular candidate, Lula Da silva, was in jail. His questionable election took place two years after Lula’s ally, Dilma Rousseff, was ousted as president in a ‘parliamentary coup’.
  • Another “Lima Group” member, Honduras president Juan Orlando Hernandez, defied that country’s constitution a year ago in running for a second term and then ‘won’ a highly questionable
  • “At the same time”as Canada and the US recognized Juan Guaidó, notes Patrick Mbeko, “in Democratic Republic of Congo they refuse to recognize the massive recent victory of Martin Fayulu in the presidential election, endorsing the vast electoral fraud of the regime and its ally Félix Tshisekedi.”

Beyond what the media has ignored, they constantly cite biased sources without offering much or any background. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Globe and Mail has quoted Irwin Cotler in two recent articles on Venezuela. But, the decades-long anti-Palestinian and anti-Hugo Chavez activist lacks any credibility on the issue. At a press conference in May to release an OAS report on alleged rights violations in Venezuela, Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.” Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered “subversives” in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil?
  • CBC and Canadian Press (to a slightly lesser extent) stories about former Venezuelan Colonel Oswaldo Garcia, whose family lives in Montréal, present him as a democracy activist. But, notes Poyan Nahrvar, Garcia participated in a coup attempt last year and then launched raids into Venezuela from Colombia until he was captured by the Venezuelan military.
  • The media blindly repeats Ottawa’s depiction of the “Lima Group”, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as an organization established to “bring peace, democracy and stability in Venezuela.” One report called it “a regional block of countries committed to finding a peaceful solution” to the crisis while another said its members “want to see Venezuela return to democracy.” This portrayal of the coalition stands its objective on its head. The “Lima Group” is designed to ratchet up international pressure on Maduro in hopes of eliciting regime change, which may spark a civil war. That is its reason for existence.

As part of nationwide protests against the “Lima Group” meeting taking place in Ottawa on Monday, activists in Montréal will rally in front of Radio Canada/CBC’s offices. They will be decrying not only Canada’s interference in Venezuela but the dominant media’s effort to “manufacture consent” for Canadian imperialism.

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Right position for NDP on Venezuela is a left one

What should the leader of Canada’s left wing party say about what’s happening in Venezuela? Here are a few suggestions: “Canada should respect international law in its dealings with Venezuela.” Or, “Canada shouldn’t select the president of Venezuela.” How about, “The US has a long history of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Canada should never take part.”

Any (or all) of these statements would be clear, reasonable positions for a social democratic party that claims to be in favour of international law and to represent the interests of ordinary people, rather than billionaires, to express. Instead, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has issued vague, contradictory words about the Liberal government’s aggressive effort to topple Venezuela’s elected president.

Over the past two years Justin Trudeau’s government has steadily ramped up their campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government. Ottawa has adopted illegal sanctionssupported opposition groups, built an anti-Venezuela regional coalition, pressured Caribbean countries to join their campaign and taken a complaint about the Venezuelan government to the International Criminal Court. Last week it recognized a little-known opposition politician — who has never garnered even 100,000 votes — as president of the country. And before making this Trumpian, anti-democratic, over-the-top-interference-in-another-country’s-internal-affairs decision, Canadian diplomats spent months preparing the move with the opposition to ratchet up tensions in the South American country. It seems the “Trudeau Doctrine” has been proclaimed, similar in purpose to the USA’s “Munroe Doctrine” first issued in 1823.

All of which should have offered a wonderful opportunity for a political party of the left to differentiate itself from the pro-big business, pro-American, pro-imperialist Liberals. But, despite Ottawa openly violating the UN and Organization of American States charters, the NDP leadership has barely mustered any criticism of Canadian policy. After Ottawa recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela last week Jagmeet Singh tweeted a largely meaningless general message. Under pressure from activists — and with NDP MP Niki Ashton, as well as current candidates Svend Robinson and Jessa McLean, making much stronger interventions —the party subsequently published a slightly better statement.

The Canadian Green and Communist parties’ statements are far better. So are those released by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Labour Congress, Vancouver and District Labour Council, Common Frontiers, Rights Action, Kingston Peace Council, Hugo Chavez People’s Defence Front, Canadian Network on Cuba, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the NDP Courage Coalition.

While many of the party’s activists are probably confused by the leadership’s indifference to Canada’s push for a coup/invasion, NDP foreign-policy is run by a former Canadian diplomat who has aligned herself with Venezuela’s far right. A year ago I published an article Canadian Dimension titled “Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?” Among numerous criticisms of Venezuela’s government, foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called the vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.” Laverdière should have been removed as foreign critic the day after repeating this obviously absurd claim from Venezuela’s lunatic far right. (In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus submitted a motion to last February’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”)

Beyond Laverdière, the party leadership is largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs. As I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, the party leadership fears corporate media backlash and only challenges official international policy when activists force the issue. (Can you imagine if the NDP never challenged government policy inside Canada? There would be no reason, aside from providing a third set of faces, for the party to exist.)

On Venezuela the party leadership would probably prefer the issue simply disappear from public discussion. But, that’s unlikely. The Liberal government has made Venezuela, reports the Globe and Mail, “one of the government’s top foreign policy priorities.” In a town hall speech on Thursday that Global News headlined “Trudeau says clause in Venezuela constitution shows Guaido is interim president”, the PM boasted that “I’ve been making calls to a significant number of global leaders” (including the heads of France, Spain, Ireland, Colombia, Italy and the EU) to convince them to join their campaign against Venezuela.

For his part, Donald Trump, reports the Wall Street Journal, has “long viewed Venezuela as one of his top three foreign-policy priorities, including Iran and North Korea.” The clique of extremists driving US policy have set up a situation that may require an invasion to succeed.

On Monday the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected government are meeting in Ottawa. A protest is planned there, as well as in at least two other Canadian cities. Before the “Lima Group” summit the NDP should release a statement challenging Canada’s coup planning and Niki Ashton, or another MP, should be allowed to speak at the rally.

It’s not too late to do the right thing.

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