Massive support for Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo at the polls is a rejection of last year’s Canadian-backed coup against Evo Morales. The vote was also a blow to Trudeau’s policy of seeking to overthrow left-wing governments in the region.
On Sunday Morales’ former finance minister, Luis Acre, won 55% of the vote for president. His MAS party also took a large majority in the Congress.
The unexpectedly large victory is a decisive rebuke of Ottawa’s support for the ouster of Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Hours after the military command forced Evo Morales to resign on November 10, then foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland released a celebratory statement declaring, “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people.”
Ottawa provided significant support for the Organization of American States’ effort to discredit Bolivia’s 2019 vote, which fueled opposition protests and justified the coup. Ottawa promoted and financed the OAS’ effort to discredit the presidential poll and two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia. “Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise”, noted Freeland at the time.
But, the OAS audit mission was designed to precipitate Morales ouster. A slew of academic and corporate media studies have demonstrated the partisan nature of the OAS audit mission and the weekend’s election results confirm it. Still, Global Affairs promoted the organization’s involvement in Bolivia’s elections. On Saturday their Canada in Bolivia account tweeted, “Canada is pleased to support the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission to Bolivia.”
For a year Ottawa stayed silent while the unelected Jeanine Anez regime ramped up repression and anti-indigenous measures as well as drastically shifted the country’s foreign policy. Worse than silence, on Bolivia’s national day in August Global Affairs claimed Canada and Bolivia’s “strong bilateral relationship is founded on our shared values of democracy, human rights and a celebration of diversity.”
Global Affairs ignored the ‘caretaker’ government’s repeated postponement of elections. Even worse, when the country’s social movements launched a general strike in August to protest the ‘caretaker’ government’s repeated postponement of elections Global Affairs echoed the coup government’s claims that the protests undermined the fight against the pandemic. Canada in Bolivia tweeted, “Canada calls for humanitarian aid to be allowed to circulate freely in Bolivia to fight #COVID19 & calls on all social actors to support the country’s democratic institutions and to use those mechanisms to resolve any disputes.” (Protesters let ambulances and other medical vehicles circulate with little disruption.)
Looking at a year of the Canada in Bolivia Twitter account I did not find a single criticism of the coup government. But, there were more than 15 posts critical of the Venezuelan government. On October 14 Canada in Bolivia tweeted, “the conditions needed for free and fair elections do not exist in Venezuela” and linked to a Lima Group statement declaring renewed “support of President Juan Guaidó.” (After usurping power Anez joined the Lima Group of countries seeking to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government.) Two months earlier the account called for “concerted international actions in support of a peaceful return to democracy in Venezuela” and linked to a Lima Group statement reiterating their “firm commitment to interim president Juan Guaidó.”
Contrasting the Trudeau government’s response to an unelected, anti-indigenous, elitist government in Bolivia to that of Venezuela’s elected, pro-poor president is telling. So is their silence on the election results in Bolivia. Nearly 72 hours after the polls closed Ottawa has yet to release a statement congratulating Arce or the MAS on their massive victory.
The election results in Bolivia are a major blow to Canadian policy in that country and Ottawa’s bid to wipe out the remnants of the leftist pink tied in Latin America.
Further, the victory of MAS shows Canada for what it has always (unfortunately) been: an imperialist power seeking to maintain the world’s massively unfair status quo.
Alcan bauxite mine near MacKenzie, British Guyana. (Henry Hamilton)
Reflecting an extreme imbalance in power, people in Guyana are well informed about Canadian activity in their country, but our media seldom mentions the Caribbean country of 800,000.
As such, it was good to see the CBC and Calgary Herald report on former Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s recent appointment to lead a review of the oil sector in the former British colony, which sits between Venezuela and Suriname on the northeastern tip of South America. The industry friendly Redford will head a team of Canadian consultants to review Exxon Mobil’s massive planned project that has been criticized for low royalty rates. In February Global Witness published “Signed Away: How Exxon’s exploitative deal deprived Guyana of up to US$55 billion.”
Redford’s appointment as “Canadian Queen’s Counsel” is controversial in Guyana. One reason is that it’s unclear, reported Stabroek News, “whether this had been as a result of Ottawa’s funding of the process.”
Ottawa intervened aggressively in a controversial recent election that paralyzed the country politically for months. Canadian officials released multiple statements critical of the previous government and the vote counting.
There was also a Canadian angle to the previous government’s fall. An MP from the governing coalition with Canadian citizenship voted in favor of a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition. The next day he fled to Toronto, claiming to have received death threats.
Canadian influence is long-standing. In the early 1900s Ottawa tried to annex British Guyana. Despite failing to take over the country, Canada has had significant influence there. The Royal Bank and Bank of Montréal both began operating in the country more than a century ago. In the early 1900s a syndicate led by Canadian railway tycoon William Van Horne built Georgetown’s electric lighting and trolley system with $600,000 from the Bank of Montréal. For its part, the Royal Bank helped US-based Alcoa develop its Guyanese bauxite operations in 1909.
Beyond the economic sphere Canada has long trained Guyana’s military. From 1942 to 1945, Canada garrisoned a company of soldiers and a naval ship in the country. Pressure from Montréal-based Alcan, which inherited Alcoa’s operations, played a central part in Ottawa’s decision to send troops to Guyana even though the official request came from London. In January 1942 Alcan’s Fraser Bruce wrote to External Affairs that “responsible company officials at McKenzie will not feel satisfied with respect to the guarding of the works until imperial or Canadian troops are stationed there.” In a follow-up letter he bluntly referred to “our recent request for white soldiers.” The official request from London made clear the racial nature of Canada’s mission. “Local coloured guards are already provided on the ships, but United Kingdom authorities recognize that there would be an advantage if these guards could be strengthened by a small number of whites and NCOs [non-commissioned officers].”
Alcan was closely enmeshed with colonial policy until Britain lost control over Guyana in 1966. The company, notes The Caribbean Basin: An International History, “thought that because of its contribution to the colonial economy, one of its officials ought to have a seat on the legislative council.” In the early 1950s “Alcan repeatedly informed Governor [Sir Alfred] Savage of its disappointment that he was not appointing any of its people, and Alcan officers thought that governor Savage himself was far too leftist, far too sympathetic to unions and socialists, to be kept in his job by a [British] Conservative government.”
On occasion Alcan personnel directly enabled Britain’s occupation. When anti-colonial upheaval swept the country in 1953 (Guyana was a pseudo colony at the time) the British governor made prominent foreigners special constables, including Charles K. Ward, then public relations officer for Alcan’s Guyanese subsidiary and a former Royal Canadian Navy officer. As one of the few naval officers in the colony, Ward was summoned to serve as liaison with the Royal Navy. “Other Alcan personnel” notes Global Mission: The Story of Alcan “were required to patrol the dark city streets by night to guard against troubles.”
As Guyana’s leading trade partner for many years Canada benefited from the unequal international division of labour created by colonialism. Guyana’s bauxite industry provides a stark example of this inequity. In 1970 the price per ton of bauxite ore was G$18, G$160 for alumina and G$1000 for aluminum ingot. According to M. Shahabuddeen in The Nationalisation of Guyana’s Bauxite: the Case of Alcan, “the smelting and semi-fabrication stages being in Canada the result was that Guyana would obtain royalties and taxes on G$72, being the value of four tons of bauxite, while Canada would derive benefit from G$1000, being the value of the equivalent of one ton of aluminum ingot.”
While Guyana lost the value-added components of the aluminum process to Canada its workforce fell victim to the worst aspects of aluminum production. The home of Alcan’s mine, McKenzie, was the worst sort of company town. Well into the 1960s “the workers live[d] in a depressed slum area to the north called, ‘the village.’ Staff members live[d] in the plush area of Waatooka, with exclusive clubs and social amenities such as a golf club.” Those not living in the town needed to present passes to enter Mackenzie.
Alcan’s operations didn’t escape the notice of social justice activists. The Student Society of the University of Guyana organized a May 1966 demonstration in front of Alcan’s office and the Canadian High Commission (as well as a Royal Bank office). ASCRIA, the country’s foremost black nationalist movement, explained: “They [the workers] have, until recently, been bound to live in the most stratified community in Guyana, with its South African and USA idea of neighbourhood living and of white supremacy. The physical arrangements were such also that the whole imperialist machinery could be clearly seen: the extraction of the ore, the processing and added value, the shipping away of wealth, the importation of raw chemicals, the small group of expatriate decision-makers, the tokenism, the social gaps, the misery of the poorer districts, the hilltop luxury of the white population, the buying out of leaders, the divide and rule tactics, the process of exploitation which they could feel in their skin.”
From the early 1980s Canada pushed neoliberal economics in Guyana. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was involved in Guyana’s first structural adjustment loan from the World Bank designed “to turn over significant sectors of the economy to the private sector, both local and foreign.” The 1982 Globe and Mail article continued, “the government denies that the program exists but copies of the agreement are widely circulated in Georgetown. … They [Canadian officials] are reluctant to discuss the effort to impose conditions, however, since it is apparently CIDA’s first foray into this sensitive area of internal economics.”
After refusing to expand this initial structural adjustment program, Guyana was blacklisted by the international financial institutions in the mid-1980s. At the same time Canadian bilateral assistance declined from $3.15 million in 1983-84 to $700,000 in 1985-86. By the late 1980s pressure from Ottawa and the international financial institutions was growing on Guyana to adopt a series of more drastic economic reforms. Ottawa chaired the Guyana Support Group and gave $60 million to a highly controversial IMF structural adjustment program.
The Canadian money was tied to Guyana’s adherence to IMF macroeconomic prescriptions. Frank Jackman, the Canadian high commissioner to Guyana, said “there is great admiration within the government of Canada for the steps that are being taken here, and for the budgetary moves, albeit unpopular, that have been introduced.” Jackman claimed Guyana was setting a “precedent” for other indebted Third World countries and told the Guyanese to “take heart” since the austerity package would encourage Canadian investments. The people failed to “take heart” and instead demonstrators threw stones at the Canadian high commission office.
After the structural adjustment programs in the 1980s some Canadian investment did flow into Guyana. Part of this foreign investment led to a terrible tragedy. In August 1995 the tailings dam at Québec-based Cambior’s Omai mine in Guyana failed. More than 1.2 billion litres of cyanide-laced sludge spilled into the Essequibo River, the country’s main waterway. Huge numbers of fish were killed and thousands of riverbank inhabitants temporarily lost their livelihood. The area was declared a disaster zone. To sidestep possible legal claims stemming from the spill the company paid off local fisherman. In November 1998 This Magazine reported: “The fishermen, who were mostly illiterate, were required to sign forms absolving Omai of any future claims in exchange for $1.50 each. About two weeks later, it was reported that [Canadian High Commissioner] Louis Gignac had pressured Guyanese Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to reduce the scope and duration of the government-sponsored commission of inquiry investigating the spill. In a closed-door meeting on September 8 in Georgetown, and later in a follow up letter leaked to the [Montréal] Gazette, he urged the Prime Minister to limit expert testimony and wrap up the inquiry in thirty days.”
Canadians who want this country to be a force for good in the world need to pay more attention to Ottawa’s influence in this small South American country. We must hold our corporations, politicians and diplomats accountable to at least the standards we demand inside Canada.
A woman stands near a burning barricade holding Nicaraguan flag, April 2018
Canada is supporting US efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s government.
A recently leaked USAID document highlights “the breadth and complexity of the US government’s plan to interfere in Nicaragua’s internal affairs up to and after its presidential election in 2021.” The stated aim is to replace president Daniel Ortega with “a government committed to the rule of law, civil liberties, and a free civil society.” HighlightingWashington’s aim, Ben Norton notes, “the 14-page USAID document employed the word ‘transition’ 102 times, including nine times on the first page alone.”
Recently Canada’s representative to the Organization of American States, Hugh Adsett, joined five other countries in calling on the OAS’ Secretary General to organize a special session focused on human rights and democracy in Nicaragua. At the recent OAS meeting Adsett criticized Nicaragua, saying the Covid-19 pandemic “should not be used to weaken democracy”.
Ottawa has supported a number of OAS resolutions and initiatives targeting Nicaragua’s government. Along with the US, Paraguay, Jamaica and Argentina, Canada was part of the 2019 OAS High-Level Diplomatic Commission on Nicaragua, which Managua blocked from entering the country. The commission claimed there was an “alteration of constitutional order that seriously affects the democratic order” in Nicaragua. But, the group failed to win majority support at the OAS General Assembly.
Ottawa has severed aid and sanctioned officials from a government former US national security adviser John Bolton listed as part of a “troika of tyranny” (Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua). Ortega’s government is part of the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the hemisphere.
Since the Sandinistas’ won power in 2007 poverty rates dropped substantially in the nation of six million. The government expanded access to electricity in rural areas and doubled the proportion of electricity from renewable sources to over half. Access to drinking water has increased as have health indicators improved. Women’s role in parliament grew sharply and Nicaragua’s murder rate remained a fraction of its northern neighbours. According to a July 2019 UN report, there were 8.3 murderers per 100,000 Nicaraguans compared with nearly 70 murders per 100,000 in El Salvador and Honduras.
A little more than a year after his third consecutive election victory a protest movement challenged Ortega’s presidency. Ostensibly what unleashed the uprising was a social security reform pushed by the International Monetary Fund. But, pension benefits were largely maintained with the government offloading most of the cost on to employers. Despite a relatively working-class friendly reform, many student organizations and NGOs aligned with the major employer federation, the wealthiest Nicaraguans and the conservative Catholic church to oppose the government. Many of these groups were financed and trained by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and Freedom House, which is close to the CIA. The movement was greatly influenced by Washington, which has long been powerful in the small, impoverished, country.
The protests quickly turned violent. At least 22 police officers were killed and as many as 300 lost their lives in politically related violence during 2018. The North American media and internationally connected NGOs blamed the government for all the rights violations. But, this was absurd, as the death toll of police highlight. It was also public knowledge that opposition rebels had been attacking government supporters for years. In March 2016 the New York Times published a long sympathetic story headlined “Ortega vs. the Contras: Nicaragua Endures an ’80s Revival” about a small number of anti-government rebels targeting police stations and Sandinistas in rural areas.
Still, Canadian officials blamed the government — either implicitly or directly — for the violence. Between April 23 and July 18, 2018, Global Affairs put out at least four press releases critical of the situation in Nicaragua. Chrystia Freeland’s statements became steadily stronger with the former foreign minister eventually demanding an immediate end to the “violence, repression, arbitrary detentions and human rights violations” and for “the government of Nicaragua to help create the conditions for safe, peaceful, and constructive discussions.” Subsequently Canada’s foreign minister questioned Ortega’s democratic legitimacy. In June 2019 Freeland declared, “Canada will continue to stand with the people of Nicaragua and their legitimate demands for democracy and accountability.” But, Ortega won the election in a landslide and it’s hard to imagine that he suddenly lost all support.
In March 2016 the New York Times reported, “Mr. Ortega enjoys strong support among the poor” while eight months later The Guardian noted he “cemented popular support among poorer Nicaraguans.” At the end of 2016 Ortega was re-elected with 72% of the vote in an election some in the opposition boycotted.
The Liberals raised the conflict in Nicaragua in international forums. At a Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Montréal in September 2018 Freeland said “Nicaragua” was one of “the pressing issues that concern us as foreign ministers.” The “situation in Nicaragua” was discussed between Freeland and foreign minister Aloysio Nunes at the third Canada-Brazil Strategic Partnership Dialogue a month later.
In August 2018 the Liberals officially severed aid to Nicaragua. Canadian funding for five major government backed projects was withdrawn.
Ten months later Canada sanctioned nine Nicaraguan government officials, including ministers and the president of the National Assembly. Individuals’ assets were frozen and Canadians were prohibited from dealing with said persons. The sanctions were adopted in co-ordination with Washington. “United States and Canada Announce Financial Sanctions to Address the Ongoing Repression in Nicaragua”, noted the US State Department’s release.
The Liberals’ stance towards Nicaragua contrasts sharply with its words and actions towards its Central American neighbour Honduras. While Canada condemned Ortega, severed aid and sanctioned officials, it maintained friendly relations and aid spending after Juan Orlando Hernandez defied the constitution by running for a second term as president and then brazenly stole the election.
The Liberals regime change efforts in Nicaragua are part of a broader pro-US/corporate policy in the hemisphere rife with hypocrisy.
Justin Trudeau requires an intervention. A friend needs to tell him his obsession with Venezuela has led him down a path of misery, destruction and failure.
During a call on Monday with Chilean president Sebastián Piñera Trudeau again raised “the situation in Venezuela”, according to the official readout. Amidst massive demonstrations against Pinera in October, Trudeau also called to discuss Venezuela as he did in February 2018 and previously. Trudeau has also discussed Venezuela with the US, Colombian and other hemispheric presidents on multiple occasions.
Further afield, the PM has talked to the leaders of Japan, France, Spain, Austria, Ireland and Italy as well as the International Monetary Fund and European Union to convince them to join Canada’s campaign against Venezuela. A search of the prime minister’s press releases found 144 references to Venezuela. Conversely, there are four mentions of Bolivia, six of El Salvador and 31 of Venezuela’s much larger neighbour Brazil (14 of which are related to the 2016 Olympics/Paralympics in Brazil and others to meetings about Venezuela).
Trudeau’s Venezuela obsession is shared throughout the government. Global Affairs has put out hundreds of statements and tweets about Venezuela over the past three years. On Friday foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne released a statement and tweeted at Juan Guaidó a “call for the establishment of a transitional government in Venezuela.” In response, US journalist Ben Norton tweeted, “Canada’s woke Liberal government will condescendingly correct you for using the word ‘mankind’ while simultaneously trying to organize a right-wing coup to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected leftist government. Intersectional imperialism.”
A recently released Access to Information request highlights Canada’s role in Juan Guaidó’s declaring himself president. Fourteen days before the new head of the opposition-dominated National Assembly declared himself interim president on January 23, 2019, then foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland had a phone meeting with Guaidó. According to a partly redacted Access to Information request submitted by Canadian Foreign Policy Institute fellow Tamara Lorincz, the talking points for the conversation reveal that “with Canada’s support, Juan Guaidó was invited to deliver a presentation on this [self-declaration] at the Lima Group National Co-ordinators meeting on December 19”, 2018. The documents confirm the central role Canadian diplomats played in the US-backed plan to ratchet up tensions by claiming a relatively marginal National Assembly member was Venezuela’s president. At the time the Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for Guaidó while the Canadian Press noted that Canadian diplomats spent “months” coordinating the plan with the hard-line opposition.
In the fall of 2017, the government hired a pro-corporate, pro-Washington, former diplomat to coordinate their bid to oust Venezuela’s government. Canadian taxpayers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Special Advisor on Venezuela Allan Culham, who was hostile to Hugo Chavez during his time as Canadian ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2005.
But, the effort is a failure. As Arnold August recently pointed out, the pro-Guaidó international coalition is fraying with Guaidó’s National Assembly mandate expiring in a few months. Similarly, top Democrats are increasingly stressing the failure of US policy. Yet the Trudeau government doesn’t appear to have any plan to get out of this political downward spiral.
The campaign to overthrow Venezuela’s government is unprecedented in Canadian foreign policy history. But, so is the reaction. Venezuela’s public lobbying contributed to Canada’s defeat in its bid for a seat on the Security Council in June. On Thursday Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza will present on “Canadian Interference in Venezuela.” As this article points out, a sitting foreign minister for a country of 30 million talking directly to Canadians about Ottawa’s bid to overthrow his government is unprecedented in Canadian foreign policy history. Adding further intrigue to this exciting event, Pink Floyd founder, Roger Waters, will also be making an appearance.
While the hypocrisy of the Liberals is not unprecedented, the campaign against Venezuela is startling in its imperialist pretensions. Across the region the Trudeau government has largely ignored human rights violations committed by pro corporate/Washington governments. They’ve said little about hundreds of killings by regimes they backed in Haiti, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. Nor have they said much about flagrant violations of the constitutions or democratic norms in Haiti, Brazil and Honduras.
A few brave and principled Canadians need to take Trudeau aside and tell him his Venezuela obsession can only lead to more embarrassment and a permanent stain on this country’s reputation. Is doing Donald Trump’s dirty work worth it?
You can register for the Thursday webinarwithVenezuela’s Foreign Minister on “Canadian Interference in Venezuela” here.
When people say “America” everyone understands they mean one country, the USA. In a similar fashion it is time for all to understand that the Organization of American States (OAS) serves the interests of that country.
In a recent webinar on “Bolivia’s fight to restore democracy and Canada’s role” organized by the Canadian Latin America Alliance and Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Matthew Green forthrightly criticized Canadian policy in that country and the hemisphere. The NDP MP said “Canada is complicit in the attack on indigeneity in Bolivia” and that “we are an imperialist, extractivist country.” He added that “we ought not be a part of a pseudo-imperialist group like the Lima Group” and criticized “Canada’s involvement in the OAS.”
Green’s statements build on a Jack Harris, the NDP foreign affairs critic, recent comment that the OAS was a “tool of the United States” with “undue influence on other members.” In a Hill Times story titled “NDP, Green MPs raise concern over Canada’s trust in OAS election monitoring in Bolivia” Paul Manly also criticized the OAS. The Green MP said the Organization is “not a credible, impartial player when it comes to leftist governments in South America. It was established to advance U.S. interests.”
The head of the OAS, Luis Almagro, is promoting extreme pro-Donald Trump positions. Recently, the OAS released a statement condemning protesters in Bolivia calling for elections. The coup government there has repeatedly postponed elections after the country’s first ever indigenous president was ousted partly as a result of a highly politicized OAS criticism of last October’s election. As the Onion recently satirized about Bolivia, the best way to ensure there are no “electoral irregularities” is to avoid elections altogether.
In Nicaragua the OAS has backed those seeking to oust Daniel Ortega’s social democratic government. They’ve repeatedly condemned the Sandinista government, prompting Nicaragua to refuse the OAS entry to the country. At the same time the OAS has largely ignored Nicaragua’s Central American neighbour even though Juan Orlando Hernandez defied the Honduras constitution by running for a second term as president and then brazenly stole the election.
In Haiti Almagro has aggressively championed corrupt, repressive and widely despised President Jovenel Moïse. The Secretary General of the OAS recently stated that Moïse’s mandate expired in February 2022, not February 2021 as most Haitians want and constitutional experts have argued. There is also some evidence to suggest the OAS is setting up to support Moïse’s effort to rig the elections. Recently, Haiti’s entire nine person electoral council resigned in response to Moïse’s pressure and the OAS continues to engage with a process that almost all political actors in Haiti reject.
Haiti’s new foreign minister Claude Joseph (representative of a prime minister appointed extra-constitutionally) recently visited Almagro to discuss Moïse’s mandate and elections. During the trip to Washington Joseph also met with the anti-Venezuela Lima Group ambassadors.
In response Haïti Liberté’s Kim Ives noted, “what could be more ironic and ludicrous than Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse accusing Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro of being ‘illegitimate and dictatorial’ while demanding that he immediately ‘hold free, fair, and transparent general elections’? But that is exactly the position of the Lima Group, a collection of 15 Latin American states and Canada, which Haiti joined in January 2020.”
Almagro is an extremist on Venezuela. Three years ago the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government. In 2017 Almagro appointed long-time critic of Hugo Chavez and vicious anti-Palestinian Canadian politician, Irwin Cotler, and two others to a panel that launched the process of bringing Venezuela to the International Criminal Court. In a Real News Network interview Max Blumenthal described “the hyperbolic and propagandistic nature” of the press conference where the 400-page Canadian-backed report was released at the OAS in Washington. At the event Cotler ridiculously claimed Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.”
A year later Almagro mused about an invasion of Venezuela. He stated, “as for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.”
The OAS receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington. While it’s now the organization’s second largestcontributor, Canada was not part of the OAS for its first 42 years. For decades Canada’s foreign-policy establishment wavered on joining the US-dominated organization. Not long after signing the free-trade agreement with the US, Brian Mulroney’s government joined the OAS in 1990.
The Matthew Green, Paul Manly and Jack Harris criticism of the OAS deserve a wide airing. All opponents of US bullying in the Americas should push for Canada to withdraw from the Organization of American States.
In an historic event on Thursday, August 20, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza will discuss “Canadian Interference in Venezuela.” You can register for the webinarhere.
A protest this week calling for elections on September 6
If Indigenous lives really mattered to the Trudeau Liberals the Canadian government would not treat the most Indigenous country in the Americas the way it has.
Canada’s policy towards Bolivia is looking ever more undemocratic with each passing day. A general strike launched on Monday in the Andean nation is likely to further expose Canada’s backing for the alliance of economic elites, Christian extremists and security forces that deposed Bolivia’s first Indigenous president.
Hours after Evo Morales was ousted in November, foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland released a statement noting, “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people. We note the resignation of President Morales and will continue to support Bolivia during this transition and the new elections.” Freeland’s statement had no hint of criticism of Morales’ ouster while leaders from Argentina to Cuba, Venezuela to Mexico, condemned Morales’ forced resignation.
The anti-democratic nature of Canada’s position has grown starker with time. Recently, the coup government postponed elections for a third time. After dragging their feet on elections initially set for January the “interim” government has used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to put off the poll until mid-October. But, the real reason for the latest postponement is that Morales’ long-time finance Minister, Luis Arce, is set to win the presidency in the first round. Coup President Jeanine Áñez, who previously promised not to run, is polling at around 13% and the main coup instigator, Luis Fernando Camacho, has even less popular support. To avoid an electoral drubbing, the coup government has sought to exclude Morales’ MAS party from the polls.
After ousting Morales the post-coup government immediately attacked Indigenous symbols and the army perpetrated a handful of massacres of anti-coup protesters. The unconstitutional “caretaker” regime shuttered multiple media outlets and returned USAID to the country, restarted diplomatic relations with Israel and joined the anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They also expelled 700 Cuban doctors, which has contributed to a surge of Covid-19 related deaths. In a recent five day period Bolivia’s police reported collecting 420 bodies from streets, houses, or vehicles in La Paz and Santa Cruz.
The pretext for Morales’ overthrow was a claim that the October 20, 2019 presidential election was flawed. Few disputed that Morales won the first round of the poll, but some claimed that he did not reach the 10% margin of victory, which was the threshold required to avoid a second-round runoff. The official result was 47.1 per cent for Morales and 36.5 per cent for US-backed candidate Carlos Mesa.
Global Affairs Canada bolstered right-wing anti-Morales protests by echoing the Trump administration’s criticism of Morales’ first round election victory. “It is not possible to accept the outcome under these circumstances,” said a Global Affairs statement on October 29. “We join our international partners in calling for a second round of elections to restore credibility in the electoral process.”
At the same time, Trudeau raised concerns about Bolivia’s election with other leaders. During a phone conversation with Chilean president Sebastián Piñera the Prime Minister criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia.” Ottawa also promoted and financed the OAS’ effort to discredit Bolivia’s presidential election.
After the October 20 presidential poll, the OAS immediately cried foul. The next day the organization released a statement expressing “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results [from the quick count] revealed after the closing of the polls.” Two days later they followed that statement up with a preliminary report that repeated their claim that “changes in the TREP [quick count] trend were hard to explain and did not match the other measurements available.”
But, the “hard-to-explain” changes cited by the OAS were entirely expected, as detailed in the Washington-based Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission”. The CEPR analysis pointed out that Morales’ percentage lead over the second place candidate Carlos Mesa increased steadily as votes from rural, largely Indigenous, areas were tabulated. Additionally, the 47.1% of the vote Morales garnered aligned with pre-election polls and the vote score for his MAS party.
Subsequent investigations have corroborated CEPR’s initial analysis. A Washington Post commentary published by researchers at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab was titled “Bolivia dismissed its October elections as fraudulent. Our research found no reason to suspect fraud.” More recently, the New York Times reported on a study by three other US academics suggesting the OAS audit was flawed. The story noted, “a close look at Bolivian election data suggests an initial analysis by the OAS that raised questions of vote-rigging — and helped force out a president — was flawed.”
But, the OAS’ statements gave oxygen to opposition protests. Their unsubstantiated criticism of the election was also widely cited internationally to justify Morales’ ouster. In response to OAS claims, protests in Bolivia and Washington and Ottawa saying they would not recognize Morales’s victory, the Bolivian president agreed to a “binding” OAS audit of the first round of the election. Unsurprisingly the OAS’ preliminary audit report alleged “irregularities and manipulation” and called for new elections overseen by a new electoral commission. Immediately after the OAS released its preliminary audit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, saying “all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process.” What started with an easy-to-explain discrepancy between the quick count and final results of the actual counting spiraled into the entire election is suspect and anyone associated with it must go.
At a Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Bolivia the representative of Antigua and Barbuda criticizedthe opaque way in which the OAS electoral mission to Bolivia released its statements and reports. She pointed out how the organization made a series of agreements with the Bolivian government that were effectively jettisoned. A number of Latin American countries echoed this view. For his part, Morales said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”
US and Canadian representatives, on the other hand, applauded the OAS’ work in Bolivia. Canada’s representative to the OAS boasted that two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia and that Canada financed the OAS effort that discredited Bolivia’s presidential election. Canada was the second largest contributor to the OAS, which received half its budget from Washington. In a statement titled “Canada welcomes results of OAS electoral audit mission to Bolivia” Freeland noted, “Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise.”
A General strike this week in Bolivia demanding elections take place as planned on September 6 will put Canadian policy to the test.
On August 12 the Canadian Latin America Alliance and Canadian Foreign Policy Institute are co-organizing a talk on Bolivia’s fight to restore democracy and Canada’s role. The event features former Foreign Minister of Ecuador Guillaume Long, MP Matthew Green and Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas. Register here.
Was Canada defeated in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council because of Justin Trudeau’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government? Its intervention in the internal affairs of another sovereign country certainly didn’t help.
According to Royal Military College Professor Walter Dorn, “I spoke with an ambassador in NYC who told me that yesterday she voted for Canada. She had also cast a ballot in the 2010 election, which Canada also lost. She said that Canada’s position on the Middle East (Israel) had changed, which was a positive factor for election, but that Canada’s work in the Lima Group caused Venezuela to lobby hard against Canada. Unfortunately (from her perspective and mine), Venezuela and its allies still hold sway in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM or G77).”
The only country’s diplomats — as far as I can tell — that publicly campaigned against Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council were Venezuelan. Prior to the vote Venezuela’s Vice-Minister of foreign relations for North America, Carlos Ron, tweeted out his opposition: “With its deafening silence, Canada has de facto supported terrorists and mercenaries who recently plotted against Venezuela, threatening regional peace and security. The UNSC is entrusted with upholding the United Nations Charter and maintaining International Peace and Security: Canada does not meet that criteria.”
The post was re-tweeted by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who has 1.6 million followers, and numerous Venezuelan diplomats around the world, including the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN. Joaquín Pérez Ayestarán added, “Canada recognizes an unelected, self-proclaimed President in Venezuela, in complete disregard for the will of the voters. It also tries to isolate Venezuela diplomatically & supports sanctions that affect all Venezuelans. Is the Security Council the place for more non-diplomacy?”
After Canada lost its Security Council bid Ron noted, “not surprised with UN Security Council election results today. A subservient foreign policy may win you Trump’s favor, but the peoples of the world expect an independent voice that will stand for diplomacy, respect for self-determination, and peace.” He also tweeted an Ottawa Citizen article titled “Why Black and brown countries may have rejected Canada’s security council bid.”
For his part, UN ambassador Ayestarán tweeted, “losing two consecutive elections to the Security Council of United Nations within a 10-years period is a clear message that you are not a reliable partner and that the international community has no confidence in you for entrusting questions related to international peace and security.”
Over the past couple of years the Trudeau government has openly sought to overthrow Venezuela’s government. In a bid to elicit “regime change”, Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed illegal sanctions, took that government to the International Criminal Court, financed an often-unsavoury opposition and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president.
Canada’s interference in Venezuelan affairs violates the UN and OAS charters. It is also wildly hypocritical. In its bid to force the Maduro government to follow Canada’s (erroneous) interpretation of the Venezuelan constitution Ottawa is allied in the Lima Group with President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who openly defied the Honduran Constitution. Another of Canada’s Lima Group allies is Colombian President Ivan Duque who has a substantially worse human rights record.
Reflecting the interventionist climate in this country, some suggested Canada’s position towards Venezuela would actually help it secure a seat on the Security Council. A few weeks before the vote the National Post’s John Ivison penned a column titled “Trudeau’s trail of broken promises haunt his UN Security Council campaign” that noted “but, Canada’s vigorous participation in the Lima Group, the multilateral group formed in response to the crisis in Venezuela, has won it good notices in Latin America.” (The Lima Group was set up to bypass the Organization of American States, mostly Caribbean countries, refusal to interfere in Venezuela’s affairs.) A Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East factsheet regarding “Canada’s 2020 bid for a UN Security Council seat” echoed Ivison’s view. It claimed, “Canada also presents a positive image to Latin American states, likely reinforced by its leadership of the Lima Group in 2019 and by its promise to allocate $53 million to the Venezuelan migration crisis.”
While it is likely that Lima Group countries voted for Canada, a larger group of non-interventionist minded countries outside of that coalition didn’t. Venezuelan officials’ ability to influence Non-Aligned Movement and other countries would have been overwhelmingly based on their sympathy for the principle of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs and respect for the UN charter.
The Liberals’ policy towards Venezuela has blown up in its face. Maduro is still in power. Canada’s preferred Venezuelan politician, Juan Guaidó, is weaker today than at any point since he declared himself president a year and a half ago. And now Venezuela has undermined the Liberals’ effort to sit on the Security Council.
Will Canada’s defeat at the UN spark a change in its disastrous Venezuela policy?
Published today in the Toronto Star, this article is supported by more than a hundred artists, activists and academics including David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Ellen Gabriel, Pam Palmater, Monia Mazigh and Roméo Saganash. To view the full list of signatories or to add your name, visit: https://www.foreignpolicy.ca/petition
Despite its peaceful reputation, Canada is not acting as a benevolent player on the international stage.
Rather, Canada ranks among the twelve largest arms exporters and its weapons have fueled conflicts across the globe, including the devastating war in Yemen.
In a disappointing move, Canada refused to join 122 countries represented at the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.
Ottawa has also been an aggressive proponent of the nuclear-armed NATO alliance, and currently leads coalition missions in Latvia and Iraq.
Echoing Trump’s foreign policy, Canada has backed reactionary forces in the Americas. The Trudeau government has led efforts to unseat Venezuela’s UN-recognized government, while propping up repressive, corrupt and illegitimate governments in Haiti and Honduras. Canada also lent its support to the economic elites and Christian extremists who recently overthrew the democratically elected indigenous president of Bolivia.
In the Middle East, Canada has sided with Israel on almost every issue of importance. Since coming to power the Trudeau government has voted against more than fifty UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by the overwhelming majority of member states. The Canadian government has refused to abide by 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, calling on member states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied in 1967.” On the contrary, Ottawa extends economic and trade assistance to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. Should it win a seat on the UNSC, Ottawa has stated that it will act as an “asset for Israel” on the Council.
Canadian mining companies are responsible for countless ecological and human rights abuses around the globe. Still, Ottawa defends the most controversial mining firms and refuses to restrict public support for companies responsible for abuses. The chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights criticized the Trudeau government for refusing to rein in mining abuses while the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes has decried the “double standard” applied to Canadian mining practices domestically versus internationally.
Falling short of its responsibilities as a global citizen, Canada continues to oppose the Basel Ban Amendment on the export of waste from rich to poor countries, which became binding in late 2019 after ratification by 97 countries. Ottawa also failed to ratify the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Ottawa has refused to ratify more than 50 International Labour Organization conventions. In November 2019, Canada once again refused to back a widely supported UN resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Trudeau government sent militarized police into unceded Wet’suwet’en Nation territory to push through a pipeline. The UN Human Rights Committee recently documented various ways Canada is failing to live up to its obligations towards indigenous people under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ignoring front-line victims, Ottawa refuses to keep Canada’s dirty oil in the ground. Canada is on pace to emit significantly more greenhouse gases than it agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement and previous climate accords. Already among the world’s highest per capita emitters, the Canadian government is subsidizing further growth of heavy emitting tar sands, at the expense of impoverished nations who’ve contributed little to the climate crisis but bear the brunt of its impacts.
The international community should not reward bad behaviour. Please vote against Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
David Suzuki, Award winning geneticist/broadcaster
Roger Waters, co-founder Pink Floyd
Noam Chomsky, linguist, author & social critic
Ellen Gabriel, artist and activist
Roméo Saganash, former MP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou
Sid Ryan, former president of Ontario Federation of Labour and CUPE Ontario
Rawi Hage, novelist
Amir Khadir, former Quebec National Assembly member
Pam Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance, Ryerson
Judy Rebick, activist and author
Jord Samolesky, Propagandhi
Steve Ashton, long-serving member of the Manitoba legislature and cabinet minister
George Elliott Clarke, poet and professor
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize co-winner (1976)
Trevor Herriot, author and activist
John Clark, activist
Charles Demers, comedian & author
Alain Deneault, essayist and philosophy professor
Martin Duckworth, laureate of the 2015 Albert-Tessier Prix du Quebec for cinema
Cy Gonick, former Manitoba NDP MLA and founding editor of Canadian Dimension
John Greyson, film-maker & professor
Syed Hussan, Migrant Workers Alliance
El Jones, activist, educator, journalist and poet
Gordon Laxer, author/founding Director Parkland Institute
Monia Mazigh, PhD, author and activist
Jim Manly, Member of Parliament 1980-88
Kanahus Manuel, activist
Tim McCaskell, educator & activist
Sheelah Mclean, co-founder Idle No More organizer
Serge Mongeau, author & editor
Mike Palecek, former National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Dimitri Roussopoulos, author, and long-time peace movement activist
A week ago a former Canadian soldier instigated a harebrained bid to kidnap or kill Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Launched from Colombia, the plot failed spectacularly with most of the men captured or killed.
Still, the leader of the invasion Jordan Goudreau, a veteran of the Canadian military and US special forces, has been remarkably forthright about the involvement of opposition figure Juan Guaidó. A leaked contract between Guaidó’s representative in Florida and Goudreau’s Silvercorp USA describes plans for a multi month occupation force, which after ousting Maduro would “convert to a National Asset Unit that will act under the direction of the [Guaidó] Administration to counter threats to government stability, terror threats and work closely” with other armed forces. Apparently, Goudreau was hoping for a big payday from Venezuela’s opposition. He also had his eyes on the $15 million bounty Washington put up in March for Maduro’s capture as well as tens of millions dollars for other members of the government.
As the plot has unraveled, Ottawa has refused to directly criticize the invasion launched from Colombia. The military has also refused to release information regarding Goudreau’s time in the Canadian forces. What’s more, since the plot began Canada’s foreign affairs minister has reached out to regional opponents of Maduro and reasserted Ottawa’s backing for Guaidó. The PM also discussed Venezuela with his Colombian counterpart.
The Trudeau government’s reaction to recent events suggest the global pandemic has not deterred them from brazenly seeking to overthrow Venezuela’s government. In a bid to elicit “regime change”, over the past couple years Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed illegal sanctions, took that government to the International Criminal Court, financed an often-unsavoury opposition and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president.
The day after the first phase of the invasion was foiled foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke to his Colombian, Peruvian and Brazilian counterparts concerning the “Venezuela crisis and the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans.” Four days later Champagne tweeted, “great call with Venezuela Interim President Juan Guaidó. Canada will always stand with the people of Venezuela in their desire to restore democracy and human rights in their country.”
On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Colombian President Iván Duque Márque. According to the official release, they “discussed the crisis in Venezuela and its humanitarian impact in the region which is heightened by the pandemic. They underscored the need for continued close collaboration and a concerted international effort to address this challenging situation.” Over the past 18 months Trudeau has repeatedly discussed Venezuela with a Colombian president who has offered up his country to armed opponents of Maduro.
The Trudeau government has been chummy with Duque more generally. After he won a close election marred by fraud allegations then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland “congratulated” Duque and said, “Canada and Colombia share a commitment to democracy and human rights.” In August 2018 Trudeau tweeted, “today, Colombia’s new President, Ivan Duque, took office and joins Swedish PM, Norway PM, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez, and others with a gender-equal cabinet. Iván, I look forward to working with you and your entire team.” A month later he added, “thanks to President Ivan Duque for a great first meeting at UNGA this afternoon, focused on growing our economies, addressing the crisis in Venezuela, and strengthening the friendship between Canada & Colombia.”
But, Duque is from the extreme right — “le champion du retour de la droite dure en Colombie”, according to a Le Soleil headline. The Colombian president has undercut the peace accord the previous (right, but not far right) government signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end Colombia’s 50-year civil war, which left some 220,000 dead. Duque’s policies have increased violence towards the ex-rebels and social activists. Seventy-seven former FARC members were killed in 2019. Even more human rights defenders were murdered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that at least 107 Colombian, mostly Indigenous, rights defenders were killed in 2019.
Through the first part of this year the pace at which social leaders and demobilized FARC members have been killed has increased. According to the UN observer mission in Colombia, 24 demobilized guerrillas have already been assassinated and a recent Patriotic March report on the “The other pandemic lived in Colombia” details 95 social leaders, human rights defenders and former guerrillas killed in the first four months of 2020.
Trudeau’s dalliance with Duque is difficult to align with his stated concern for human rights in Venezuela.
The same can be said for Ottawa’s failure to condemn the recent invasion attempt. The Trudeau government should be questioned on whether it was involved or had foreknowledge of the recent plot to invade Venezuela.
The effort Justin Trudeau’s government is putting into removing Venezuela’s President is remarkable. So is the utter hypocrisy of their campaign.
On Thursday Ottawa hosted the Lima Group, a coalition of countries supporting Washington’s bid to overthrow the Venezuelan government. A CBC headline noted, “Ottawa attempts to reboot campaign to remove Maduro from power in Venezuela.” For more than a year the Lima Group has openly pushed Venezuela’s military to overthrow the government. Thursday’s summit was the third held in Canada of a coalition instigated by Canada and Peru in mid 2017.
During the recent Munich Security Conference Trudeau discussed the South American country with a US Senate and House of Representatives delegation led by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. The Prime Minister’s release noted, “the Congressional delegation thanked Canada for its leadership on the Lima Group and for supporting Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan National Assembly in their efforts to achieve a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela.”
Similarly, the Prime Minister discussed Venezuela at a meeting with Austria’s Chancellor on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. According to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Canada and Austria “have many shared goals such as the empowerment of women and our support for free & fair elections in Venezuela.” According to this formulation, the empowerment of half the world’s population is of similar import to purported electoral discrepancies in Venezuela.
Foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne also discussed Venezuela with International Crisis Group President Robert Malley at the Munich Security Conference.
Last month Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa. The self-declared president met the Prime Minister, deputy PM, international development minister and foreign minister. Trudeau called him “Interim President Guaidó” and Champagne sometimes referred to him simply as “President”.
Over the past couple of years, the government has put out hundreds of press releases, tweets and public statements critical of the Venezuelan government. They hired a Special Advisor on Venezuela to oversee the government’s coup efforts and the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers gave Patricia Atkinson, Head of the Venezuela Task Force at Global Affairs, its Foreign Service Officers award in June 2019 for her role in overseeing a team of diplomats that organized Lima Group meetings, sanctions, etc. The government has implemented four rounds of sanctions against Venezuelan officials and it’s brought that country to the International Criminal Court, shuttered its Embassy in Caracas, funded opposition groups and decided a marginal opposition politician was the legitimate president.
A look at Canada’s Lima Group allies highlights the hypocrisy of their campaign against Venezuela. The constitutional legitimacy of Honduras’ President is far weaker than Maduro’s; Far more dissidents were assassinated in Colombia last year; The government of Chile is facing greater popular contestation; The electoral legitimacy of Haiti’s President is much weaker; Honduras’ president has clearer links to drug runners; Violence is worse in numerous countries in the Hemisphere.
It is true that Venezuela’s economic downturn – and concurrent outward migration – is substantially worse than other Lima Group members. But, the sanctions imposed by the US and Canada have contributed to Venezuela’s economic collapse as much as any action of the government.
Canada is engaged in an extraordinary effort to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro. But, it isn’t designed to advance democracy or human rights in Venezuela.