The tale of Allan Culham illustrates the essence of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal foreign policy towards Latin America.
In fall 2017 the Trudeau government hired a retired diplomat to coordinate its campaign to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Over the next four years Culham was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to act as Canada’s Special Advisor on Venezuela.
In “Ottawa hires hitman to overthrow Venezuelan government” I detailed Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela, El Salvador and Guatemala hostility towards the left and Latin American integration. A new report based on Access to Information requests provides further evidence of Culham’s history and the reality of Canadian diplomacy.
“The Two Faces of Canadian Diplomacy: Undermining International Institutions to Support Canadian Mining” detailsCulham and other diplomats support for Vancouver based Goldcorp in their battle with Mayan communities in the highlands of northwestern Guatemala. From 2005 to 2011 four people were killed and two dozen injured in clashes between community members, police, military and Marlin Mine security. In response to the repression, lack of community consent and ecological damage caused by the mine, 13 communities brought Goldcorp to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Their petition prompted the OAS-associated body to request the Guatemalan government suspend mine operations until the health and safety of residents could be ensured. In response to the May 2010 decision “Canadian Ministers, DFATD [Foreign Affairs] Directors, Ambassadors, and Embassy officials heavily lobbied Guatemalan officials and sought information from IACHR representatives on behalf of Goldcorp, while dismissing or ignoring the concerns of communities, international human rights bodies, civil society groups, and international experts/researchers about the mine’s negative social, environmental, and health impacts.”
As Canada’s permanent representative to the OAS, Culham assisted Goldcorp, then one of the biggest gold mining firms in the world. While initially recognizing that it would be inappropriate to intervene in the IACHR process, Culham “repeatedly tried to contact and eventually did communicate with the IACHR Executive Secretary.” He and his staff coordinated with Goldcorp representatives, “sharing strategies and suggestions for Goldcorp’s participation, and debriefing and strategically analyzing the hearings, including the private hearing that Goldcorp secured with the IACHR.”
Goldcorp succeeded in having the IACHR withdraw the request to suspend their mine, which could have been partly due to Canada’s significant leverage within the OAS. After the US, which covers half its budget, Canada is the second largest contributor to the 33-nation group, providing as much as 12% of OAS funding. It’s outrageous that Canada’s top diplomat at the OAS — and diplomatic apparatus more broadly — threw its weight behind a mining firm running roughshod over indigenous communities in Guatemala.
Culham’s support for Goldcorp is noteworthy for another reason. Culham boasts about his ties to one of Canada’s most important NGOs and that organization celebrates him.
Between 1974 and 1981 Culham worked with Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) in Botswana. In 2019 Culham organized an anniversary event for the NGO’s alumni who worked in Botswana and appeared in CUSO’s 60-year anniversary video released in June.
Why would an organization that says its “working globally to end poverty and inequality” promote a pro-corporate, pro-Washington diplomat overseeing Canada’s bid to overthrow the Venezuelan government? The answer is: Unfortunately, all too often, government-funded NGOs that talk of “empowerment” instead enable imperialism.
Culham is the embodiment of Canada’s Liberal Party fine sounding foreign policy statements and actual reality. They’ll assist a mining firm destroy indigenous communities, work to extend North American domination of Latin America and claim to be inspired by NGOs “working globally to end poverty and inequality”.
Fortunately, Canada’s bid to overthrow the Venezuelan government has failed and a new wave of progressive Latin American governments have rekindled efforts to replace the OAS with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which excludes Canada and the US.
On February 24 I will be speaking on “The Collapse of Trudeau’s Latin America Strategy”.