Was it conscious? Did someone at Global Affairs say, ‘we should organize a lofty sounding conference that’s a cover for our pro-US and corporate policy on the anniversary of the international community rejecting Trudeau’s liberal imperialism’?
On the one-year anniversary of Canada’s defeat in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council the Trudeau government is hosting an International Donors’ Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants. While it may sound like a humanitarian endeavor, it’s the latest phase in Canada’s multipronged effort to overthrow Nicolás Maduro’s government, which has included plotting with the opposition to anoint an alternative president.
A number of opponents of the Venezuelan government will participate in the conference. But no one from Maduro’s administration is invited to address the event. Nor is the main issue driving Venezuelans to migrate likely to receive much (or any) attention, namely the seizure of Venezuelan assets and vicious economic sanctions.
The US, Britain and European countries have seized billions of dollars in Venezuelan government assets over the past two and half years. At the same time the country has faced steadily more extreme international sanctions. Canada has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Venezuela since 2017, which have reinforced and legitimated similar devastating US actions. According to the preliminary report by the current UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures, Alena Douhan, “the [Venezuelan] government’s revenue was reported to shrink by 99%, with the country currently living on 1% of its pre-sanctions income.”
The sanctions have contributed to 100,000 deaths, according to former UN Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, and massive outward migration. While Venezuela’s economic decline began when the price of oil dropped sharply in 2014-2015, the number of Venezuelans leaving the country spiked after the 2017 sanctions. According to Venezuela’s Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Vida (ENCOVI), 730,000 Venezuelans left the country between 2015 and 2017. In 2018 and 2019 that number more than doubled to 1.54 million.
Most countries and international law experts believe sanctions are only legitimate when approved by the World Trade Organization or United Nations Security Council. In March the Human Rights Council approved a resolution 30 to 15 (with two abstentions) urging all states to stop adopting unilateral sanctions as they impede “the right of individuals and peoples to development.”
In another indication of the two-faced nature of Trudeau’s concern for Venezuelan migrants, Canada has refused to renew the visas of Venezuelan diplomats. As a result, the last individual from that country’s government providing services to Venezuelans in Canada recently had to leave.
As I wrote last year, Canada’s bid to overthrow the Venezuelan government contributed to its Security Council defeat. Venezuelan diplomats publicly campaigned against Canada’s Security Council bid and reports suggest their influence swayed some in the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Security Council defeat was no doubt an embarrassment for the Trudeau government. Pushing for a seat was part of their rebranding of Canadian foreign policy after the Stephen Harper government. But the Liberals are far more committed to supporting the US empire and corporate interests – which drives their Venezuela policy – than winning favour with populations and governments in the Global South, which largely explains why they lost the Security Council bid.
The Liberals need to be a bit more careful with Canadians. They need the public and particularly their electorate to support (acquiesce to) their pro-corporate and empire foreign policy, which is the purpose of the government’s high-minded claims.
Similar rhetorical strategies are employed on a wide range of issues. Trudeau boasts about promoting an “international rules based order” as they apply unilateral (illegal) sanctions on countries and threaten the International Criminal Court to prevent it from investigating Israeli war crimes; A government representative says “we are committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons” as they refuse to sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty; The government says they follow a feminist foreign policy while facilitating weapons sales to a patriarchal Saudi monarchy devastating Yemen; They claim to believe in a two-state solution but vote against UN resolutions calling for a Palestinian state; They say they promote democracy as they prop up a corrupt and repressive dictatorship in Haiti. For other examples check out my House of Mirrors: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy.
The Liberals’ strategy works since the dominant media and most of Canada’s intelligentsia focus on government rhetoric rather than the underlying international policies. Politicians and people elsewhere are not as inclined to believe ‘benevolent Canada’ mythology, which is largely why the Trudeau government lost its Security Council bid.
Maybe it’s fitting that on the one-year anniversary of Canada’s Security Council defeat the government is organizing a humanistic sounding conference that’s part of an imperial strategy. It clearly illustrates Liberal hypocrisy.
To mark the one-year anniversary of Canada’s defeat in its bid for a seat on the Security Council the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting “International Solidarity Now: A gathering for a more just Canadian foreign policy.”
Last week right-wing Colombian President Ivan Duque deployed the military to Cali. The city of 2.3 million has been the epicenter of a month-long nationwide protest that forced the government to withdraw a regressive tax proposal that unleashed a general strike.
During the past month security forces have killed at least 50 and probably dozens more. Over 300 individuals are missing, according to Colombia’s National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, in a country with a history of political disappearances.
In a sign the politics of the protesters are radicalizing, ten days ago protesters burned massive US and Israeli flags. In response Dan Cohen tweeted, “This isn’t just a strike against austerity measures. It’s a full-on uprising against imperialism.”
Perhaps one could add, against Canadian policies.
Clearly, Canada has promoted the policies Colombians are rebelling against. Over the past three-decades Ottawa has been close diplomatically to Latin America’s most repressive state and has promoted capitalist policies that have contributed to Colombia’s extreme inequality.
The Justin Trudeau Liberals has promoted President Iván Duque who Le Soleil labeled “le champion du retour de la droite dure en Colombie” (champion of the return of the hard right in Colombia). After Duque won a close election marred by fraud allegations, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland “congratulated” him 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 … 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.”
As Trudeau got chummy with Duque, the Colombian president 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 over 200,000 dead. Duque’s policies increased violence towards the ex-rebels and social activists. More than 253 former FARC members have been killed in the past three years. Even more human rights defenders have been murdered.
Trudeau has yet to say anything about the massive repression of protesters in the past month. After numerous Canadian rallies were held in solidarity with protesters in Colombia Foreign Minister Marc Garneau released a statement ten days into the strike. But Garneau criticized the security forces’ deadly violence in equal measure to protestors’ purported vandalism. It also praised the Duque government, which had made all kinds of menacing statements.
This Canadian support for repressive Colombian governments is longstanding.
Stephen Harper had even closer diplomatic ties with Duque’s patron Alvaro Uribe. In 2009 the former PM referred to the far-right president as a valuable “ally” in a hemisphere full of “serious enemies and opponents.” A 2007 visit to Colombia by the Canadian PM was described by the Economist as giving Uribe “a vote of confidence at a time when he [was] being assailed both in Washington and at home.” At the time, Uribe’s government was plagued by a scandal tying numerous top officials to Colombia’s brutal paramilitaries. Dozens of Uribe-aligned congresspeople were implicatedand the president’s cousin was among those who had been jailed.
Uribe’s terrible human rights record did not stop Harper from signing a free-trade agreement with Colombia. Harper devoted a great deal of energy to backing the most repressive and right-wing government in Latin America. According to an April 2009 cable from the US embassy in Ottawa, in private the PM conceded that the Colombia trade accord was unpopular with Canadians. Released by Wikileaks the cable noted: “It was a painful but deliberate choice for the Prime Minister” to support president Alvaro Uribe in the face of stiff resistance to the free trade agreement, particularly from Canada’s labour movement. The Canada-Colombia trade agreement was also opposed by most of that country’s organized peasantry and labour.
The trade deal was part of a long-standing push to liberalize Colombia’s economy. In the late 1990s Canada’s aid agency supported petroleum legislation reform, which benefited Canadian firms. More significantly, Ottawa began an $11 million project to re-write Colombia’s mining code in 1997. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) worked on the project with a Colombian law firm, Martinez Córdoba and Associates, that represents multinational companies, and the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI), an industry think-tank based at the University of Calgary.
They spent a couple years canvassing mining companies to find out what the industry wanted from new mining regulations. A representative from Greystar Corp., which was involved in the effort for nearly two years, explained how they provided “input that reflected the mining industry’s point of view as to what was important in such legislation to encourage mining.”
Once completed the CERI/CIDA proposal was submitted to Colombia’s Department of Mines and Energy and became law in August 2001. “The new code flexibilised environmental regulations, diminished labour guarantees for workers and opened the property of afro-Colombian and indigenous people to exploitation,” explained Francisco Ramirez, president of SINTRAMINERCOL, Colombia’s State Mine Workers Union. “The CIDA-backed code also contains some articles that are simply unheard of in other countries,” added Ramirez. “If a mining company has to cut down trees before digging, they can now export that timber for 30 years with a total exemption on taxation.” The new code also reduced the royalty rate companies pay the government to 0.4 percent from 10 percent for mineral exports above 3 million tonnes per year and from 5 percent for exports below 3 million tonnes. In addition, the new code increased the length of mining concessions from 25 years to 30 years, with the possibility that concessions can be tripled to 90 years.
Canadian officials were happy with the results. According to CIDA’s summary of the project, “Canadian energy and mining sector companies with an interest in Colombia will benefit from the development of a stable, consistent and familiar operating environment in this resource-rich developing economy.”
Ottawa has continued to plow ‘aid’ dollars into supporting the mining sector in Colombia. The Skills for Employment in the Extractives Sector of the Pacific Alliance, Andean Regional Initiative and Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector have channeled millions of dollars into assisting mining interests there.
Canadian assistance was used to reform the country’s non-resource sector as well. In 1995 CIDA provided $4 million to “contribute to the liberalization process of the telecommunications sector in Colombia.” Ottawa-based Destrier Management Consultants used the money for training seminars, workshops and advisors. Within a few years Canadian companies operated Colombia’s leading cellular phone provider and installed a large proportion of the country’s phone lines. In 2003 Canada’s “Nortel Networks”, explained Asad Ismi, “helped bring about the liquidation of TELECOM, Colombia’s biggest telecommunications company, and the likely privatization of its successor. … With the privatization, however, 10,000 unionized telecommunications workers lost their jobs that year, and over 70 trade unionists were murdered by paramilitaries for demonstrating against the privatization.”
In the late 1990s and 2000s Crown corporation EDC was heavily invested in Colombia despite widespread state-sponsored human rights violations. They provided investment insurance to Canadian companies, which had significant investments in Colombia. Canadian companies, for instance, ran Colombia’s most important oil pipeline and its two largest natural gas pipelines.
Canadian investment in Colombia, especially in the resource sector, was intimately tied to human rights abuses. A study on “The Presence of Canadian Petroleum Companies in Colombia,” found that “an avalanche of new contracts and new Canadian companies” entered Colombia in 2000 “at a moment when the internal conflict has intensified particularly in traditional, indigenous-occupied areas, and where resistance to their projects is significant.”
In the late 1990s Calgary-based Enbridge operated the OCENSA pipeline jointly with Toronto-based TransCanada Pipelines. Both companies owned a 17.5 percent share of the pipeline along with shares held by British Petroleum, Total and The Strategic Transaction Company. Until 1997 the OCENSA consortium contracted Defence Systems Colombia (a British firm) for security purposes. According to Amnesty International:
“What is disturbing is that OCENSA/DSC’s security strategy reportedly relies heavily on paid informants whose purpose is to covertly gather intelligence information’ on the activities of the local population in the communities through which the pipeline passes and to identify possible ‘subversives’ within those communities. What is even more disturbing is that this intelligence information is then reportedly passed by OCENSA to the Colombian military who, together with their paramilitary allies, have frequently targeted those considered subversive for extrajudicial execution and disappearance. …The passing of intelligence information to the Colombian military may have contributed to subsequent human rights violations.”
Amnesty added that OCENSA and DSC purchased military equipment for the notoriously violent 14th Brigade of the Colombian army.
While Canadian investors contributed to Colombia’s dirty war, so did Canadian arms manufacturers. In the late 1990s DND sold 33 Huey helicopters to the US State Department, which added machine guns and sent them to the Colombian police and military as part of “Plan Colombia”. The Huey sale followed Bell Helicopter Textron Canada’s export of 12 helicopters directly to the Colombian air force and police. The helicopter was a type “widely used by the U.S. military in the 1970s in counter-insurgency operations in Vietnam.” Not only did Ottawa allow helicopter sales to Colombia’s military, the Canadian embassy in Bogota promoted them.
In 2013 the Harper government added Colombia to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List to facilitate the export of assault weapons. Since then, weapons sales to Colombia have usually totaled only a few hundred thousand dollars a year but in 2014 that number reached $45 million. The Crown-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation helped sell 24 light armoured vehicles to the Colombian army and four armoured personnel carriers to its police. Since 2011 Colombian military personnel have participated in Canada’s Military Training and Cooperation Program. Colombia’s police have also been instructed, reports Abram Lutes, “through exchanges with the RCMP and the ongoing Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP), which nominally trains the Colombian national police in combating drug trafficking. The ACCBP is Canada’s contribution to Colombia’s long drug war, which provides pretext for security forces and paramilitaries to target leftist guerillas and peasants who produce cocoa.”
As part of its “role in the fight against drug traffickers” Canada supplied intelligence gathering equipment to Colombia in the early 1990s. In 1990 Canada began a $2 million program to provide intelligence equipment and bomb detectors to the Colombian Departamento Adminitrativo De Securidad. At that time Colombia’s leading news magazine, Semana, suggested that Canada was working with the US in a hegemonic project in the region.
According to former JTF2 soldier Claude Morisset, Canada also sent soldiers to Colombia in the late 1990s. In We Were Invincible Morisset describes his mission to the Colombian jungle to rescue NGO and church workers “because FARC guerillas threatened the peace in the region.” The Canadian soldiers were unaware that they were transporting the son of a Colombian leader, which prompted the FARC to give chase for a couple days. On two different occasions the Canadian forces came under fire from FARC guerrillas. Ultimately the Canadians were saved by US helicopters, as the JTF2 mission was part of a US initiative.
While Colombian protesters didn’t burn the Canadian flag, maybe they should have. Canada has long promoted corporate and imperial interests in Colombia and continues to do so.
Why is Canada pushing Guyana, an impoverished nation of 800,000, into conflict with Venezuela while helping multinationals grab its oil?
Recently Canadian officials criticized Venezuela’s position regarding its territorial dispute with Guyana, which sits on the northeastern tip of South America. Soon after the US put out a statement on the century-old dispute, the Canadian High Commission declared “Venezuela’s recent claim that it has sovereignty over the area adjacent to Guyana’s Essequibo coast is concerning. The decision is in the hands of the International Court of Justice and this judicial process must be respected.”
The Canadian and US statements were in response to Caracas criticizing an International Court of Justice ruling and a joint US/Guyana coast guard exercise in disputed waters that took place on January 8. After that patrol Commander of the US Southern Command Admiral Craig Faller, spent three days in the former British colony. During Faller’s visit the two countries signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement. The deepening military ties follow on the heels of the first-ever visit by a US secretary of state. In September Mike Pompeo met new Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, who Washington backed during an election dispute that paralyzed the country politically for months.
Ottawa also intervened aggressively in the controversial election. Canadian officials released multiple statements critical of the previous government and the vote counting. Apparently, Guyana’s new government is more willing to lend itself to the US-led campaign against Venezuela and to foreign oil interests at the centre of the resurgent territorial dispute.
Washington was once on the other side of the territorial dispute that nearly led the US to invade Canada. At the end of the 1800s British encroachment into what Venezuela considered its territory prompted Washington to assert the Monroe Doctrine, which granted it the “right” to intervene in the internal affairs of countries in the hemisphere. As conflict between Washington and London escalated, Canadian officials worried that war would lead to a US invasion.
Ultimately the dispute was resolved through international arbitration. It was disastrous for Venezuela. Washington legitimated its interventionist Monroe Doctrine and Venezuela lost 90% of the territory. London made a deal with the deciding Russian officials to support its claim. When the underhanded nature of the deal came to light decades later Venezuela renewed its claim to the disputed territory.
In recent years the territorial dispute has been rekindled due to the discovery of large amounts of oil in the sparsely populated region. Prior to Exxon-Mobil’s discovery the Venezuelan government called on the US company to stop drilling. In 2015 Caracas also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Toronto-based Guyana Goldfields, which operated a large gold mine in the disputed area.
While the Guyanese are largely united regarding the territorial dispute, the oil discovery has been quite controversial. There are concerns over the impact of pollutants on communities and fisheries as well as oil spills, which the government will pay to clean up according to its agreement with Exxon. Many in the climate-vulnerable coastal nation are also troubled by the greenhouse gas emissions that will be released. There is also criticism of highly preferential royalty rates. In February Global Witness reported that Exxon and other firms’ sweetheart deal deprived Guyana of billions of dollars in potential revenue. The report, “shows how the oil major used aggressive tactics and threats to pressure inexperienced Guyanese officials to sign the deal for the Stabroek license.”
Amidst significant political backlash, former Alberta Premier Alison Redford was appointed in August to lead a review of Exxon Mobil’s massive planned Payara offshore oil field. Redford’s ties to Exxon should have made her appointment controversial. Exxon-Mobil’s 60% Canadian owned subsidiary, Imperial Oil of Canada, is highly influential in the province she once lead. During Redford’s time as a minister and premier of Alberta Exxon’s subsidiary contributed an average of $10,000 a year to her Conservative party.
Redford’s appointment was also controversial since Ottawa “identified her” to Guyana’s new government and fundedthe process. Canada’s High Commission paid for Redford and other Canadian consultants to review Exxon’s proposal.
On October 1 researcher Bob Thomson put in an Access to Information request for “a copy of the contract between the High Commission and/or Global Affairs and Ms. Redford and/or the company she represents and any terms of reference related to that contract”, as well as “copies of any correspondence between the Canadian High Commission, Global Affairs and the Government of Guyana related to Canadian expectations, interests or benefits from Canadian taxpayer funding of this review.” Despite the law giving the government 30 days to respond (and a possible 30-day extension), the access request has yet to be fulfilled.
The Canadian government openly promotes oil interests in Guyana. They recently announced that their Trade Commissioner Service “laid the groundwork for approximately 20 partnerships between Canadian and Guyanese private sector organizations in the oil and gas sector.” In a December story headlined “How Guyana is emerging as the new frontier for N.L.’s oil services sector”, CBC described a “swarm of companies from the Newfoundland and Labrador oil services sector that is making a play for business in Guyana.” One hundred and seventy firms participated in a virtual Guyanese trade mission organized by Newfoundland’s oil industry association and the High Commission facilitated a “capacity building” accord between Guyana and Newfoundland’s Ministry of Natural Resources. Toronto-based Cataleya holds a 25% stake in another Exxon-led project adjacent to Stabroek with the rights to drill in a 3.3 million-acre area.
Last month outgoing High Commissioner Lilian Chatterjee urged Guyanans: “Don’t resist foreign investment but use your judgement on who you can trust.” Unsurprisingly, Chatterjee told the audience that the Canadian government and corporations were to be “trusted”. Canada was more trustworthy, she said, because “we were here when you had no oil. We have been a strong and reliable friend for more than a century and we have supported your development all along the way.”
As I detail here, Ottawa tried to annex British Guyana in the early 1900s and Canadian troops were deployed there during World War II. Traditionally, the leading powers in Guyana have demonstrated considerable trust in Canada. In the 1950s the British spy agency MI6 asked Ottawa to place a “special economic adviser” in leftist Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan’s government to monitor and influence policy. When he returned to power a decade later — the British ousted him in 1954 — the CIA sought Canadian support to strengthen labour opposition to Jagan. A US cable explained, “it might be good idea if U.S. union movement could find Canadian to send in to” stoke antigovernment agitation. (Previously Canadian Congress of Labour executive member Charles Millard argued that aid to Guyana was “in the interests of Canadian security”, partly because it would undercut Jagan’s bid to nationalize the Alcan dominated bauxite industry, which would be “detrimental to Canadian interests.”)
So, little has changed over the decades. Ottawa is helping wealthy corporations grab Guyana’s oil and is pushing the country into conflict with Venezuela as part of a push to destabilize an enemy of Washington. We need to stop Canada’s imperialist behaviour.
Friday January 22, 2021, will be a landmark day in the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will enter into force, making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal under international law.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) should be celebrated for its years of work promoting the treaty. Japanese Canadian Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, offered spiritual guidance to this testament to international activism.
Amidst this important step towards abolishing ghastly weapons, humanity continues to live under the cloud of possible nuclear annihilation. Canada’s most intimate military ally, the US, spends over $35 billion annually on nuclear weapons, equal its ‘aid’ budget. The other eight nuclear armed states spend an equal sum on their nukes.
Last January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight. Created two years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the placement of the clock hand is evaluated each year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. The clock was moved closer to midnight because the limited arms control measures built up over decades have been shredded during the past two years. Washington pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which have mitigated the dangers posed by 13,400 nuclear weapons (over 90 percent held by the US and Russia). Detonating a small share of these nukes could make the planet uninhabitable. The ‘most advanced’ nuclear weapons are 80 times more deadly than what was dropped on Japan 75 years ago.
The Trump administration also withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. Hopefully, Joe Biden will rejoin the accord. But a preferable solution to concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons would be to impose a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East that includes intensive inspections. While most countries of the region support the idea, the US refuses to accept a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which exist in a number of other regions. Washington wants to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile and its own ability to deploy nuclear weapons to the area.
Ottawa says it supports a nuclear weapons free Middle East, but has opposed organizing a regional conference on the establishment of such a zone because it would undercut Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. Additionally, in December Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau in voting against a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and “renounce possession of nuclear weapons”. 153 countries backed the call.
This is but a small slice of the Trudeau government’s nuclear weapons hypocrisy. Two weeks ago Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rob Oliphant, “reaffirmed Canada’s unwavering support for advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament”, declaring “we are committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.” Yet a month earlier Canada voted against 130 UN members that backed a resolution supporting the TPNW. Canada also voted against holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Ottawa then boycotted the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of the world’s countries attended.
The Trudeau government opposes the TPNW while claiming it wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It also touts its promotion of an “international rules-based order” and “feminist foreign policy” while ignoring how the treaty advances these principals.
There is far too little discussion of the threat nuclear weapons pose. Leaders across the globe need to be pushed to pursue nuclear disarmament. The TPNW should be at the centre of that effort. Canadians need to press their government to sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty.
On the day the treaty enters into force the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be presenting a webinar with Noam Chomsky on “The Threat of Nuclear Weapons: Why Canada Should Sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty”.
When will the Trudeau government finally end its embrace of Juan Guaidó?
Just before this week’s inauguration of a new National Assembly François-Philippe Champagne tweeted, “as the December 6 elections were neither free nor fair, Canada will continue to recognize the National Assembly, democratically elected in 2015, as Venezuela’s legitimate legislature and its president as Venezuela’s Interim President.” Tagging Guaidó, the foreign minister added, “Canada will always stand with Venezuela in their fight to restore democracy.”
While the Trump administration took a similar position, the European Union dropped its de facto recognition of Guaidó. Even the Ottawa-led Lima Group’s recent statement on Venezuela backed away slightly, failing to “mention Guaidó as interim president.”
In response to Champagne’s tweet Venezuela’s foreign minister wrote, “since the government of Canada doesn’t respect the UN Charter nor Venezuela’s sovereignty, it announces it will continue to subordinate to US policies and sanctions to violate the human rights of Venezuelans. What a sad role it has played. Shame!”
More than two years ago Canadian diplomats played an important role in uniting large swaths of the Venezuelan opposition behind a US-backed plan to ratchet up tensions by proclaiming the new head of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, Guaidó, as president. The Canadian Press quoted a Canadian diplomat saying they helped Guaidó “facilitate conversations with people that were out of the country and inside the country” while the Globe and Mail reported that “Freeland spoke with Juan Guaidó to congratulate him on unifying opposition forces in Venezuela, two weeks before he declared himself interim president” in January 2019. Canadian diplomats spent “months”, reported 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 a relatively marginal National Assembly member was Venezuela’s president.
Alongside Washington and a number of right-leaning Latin American governments, Ottawa immediately recognized Guaidó after he proclaimed himself president at a rally. In the weeks after Prime Minister Trudeau called numerous international leaders to convince them to join Canada in supporting Guaidó. At the opening of the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa after Guaidó’s presidential declaration Trudeau declared, “the international community must immediately unite behind the interim president.”
After he was officially dethroned as leader of Venezuela’s national assembly (the matter was contested) in January of last year, Guaidó sought to reaffirm his international backing. Two weeks later Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa, meeting the PM, international development minister and foreign minister. Trudeau declared, “I commend Interim President Guaidó for the courage and leadership he has shown in his efforts to return democracy to Venezuela, and I offer Canada’s continued support.” Over the past two years Canadian officials have put out dozens of tweets, press releases and other statements supporting Guaidó’s claim to the presidency.
The bulk of the opposition to Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has broken with Guaidó. For their part, many government supporters are demanding he be arrested. In “The Dilemma of What to Do with Guaido” Miguel Ugas describes the different perspectives on the matter:
Trudeau claims an individual without an electoral mandate or control over any government institution is president of Venezuela. One can understand why the (I won the 2020 election) Donald Trump administration would continue with this farce, but why are the Liberals going along with it?
Add this to the “you can’t make this stuff up” file: Canada’s foreign minister recently met his Haitian counterpart, who is part of a de facto administration illegally rewriting the constitution, to discuss Venezuela’s supposed democracy deficiency. Apparently, Ottawa wants a Haitian regime extending its term and criminalizing protest to maintain its support for Juan Guaidó as “constitutional” president of Venezuela.
Last week foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke with his Haitian counterpart Claude Joseph. According to Champagne’s tweet about the conversation, they discussed COVID-19, Haiti’s elections and Venezuela. Presumably, Champagne relayed Ottawa’s position concerning Venezuela’s recent National Assembly elections, which delivered a final blow to opposition politician Guaidó’s farcical presidential claims. In August Joseph met his US and Canadian patrons in Washington on the sidelines of an anti-Venezuela Lima Group meeting. 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.”
Joseph is the representative of a prime minister appointed extra-constitutionally. His boss was picked by Moïse after parliament, which needs to endorse a prime minister, expired because the president failed to organize elections. Moïse is ruling by decree and pushing to extend his term by a year to February 7, 2022, against the wishes of most Haitians and constitutional experts.
Canada is essentially supporting Moïse’s bid to extend his mandate. Ottawa is also supporting an election process that most political actors in Haiti reject. In the summer Haiti’s entire nine person electoral council resigned in response to Moïse’s pressure and few believe a fair election is possible under his direction.
Canada is backing the elections and an illegal constitutional rewrite. After the call with Champagne, Joseph tweeted, “I had a fruitful conversation today with my Canadian counterpart François-Philippe Champagne. We discussed, among other things, Canada’s support for constitutional reform and the holding of elections in 2021.”
Moïse is seeking to rewrite the constitution. Soon after parliament was disbanded, he picked individuals to rewrite the constitution in flagrant violation of the law. Moïse appointed former Supreme Court justice Boniface Alexandre to head the constitutional rewrite. Alexandre was made figurehead “President” after the US, France and Canada overthrew elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. In another throwback to a period that saw thousands killed in political violence, Moïse recently made Léon Charles head of police. The former military man oversaw the police in the 17 months after the 2004 coup with Charles publicly referring to the “war” the police waged against the pro-democracy sector.
In another regressive throwback, Moïse unilaterally decreed the creation of a new National Intelligence Agency at the end of November. Kim Ives explains, “this secret agency’s completely anonymous officers (Article 43) will have false identities (Article 44), carry guns (Article 51), be legally untouchable (Article 49), and have the power not just to spy and infiltrate but to arrest anybody engaged in ‘subversive’ acts (Article 29) or threatening ‘state security’ i.e. the power of President Jovenel Moïse.” The new agency appears analogous to the Duvalier dictatorship’s Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Ton Ton Macoutes) or the Service d’Intelligence National the CIA created after Baby Doc fled in 1986. Supposed to fight the cocaine trade, SIN members were involved in hundreds of murders in subsequent years.
Even most of Moïse’s foreign patrons have nominally distanced themselves from the new intelligence agency, which reach beyond the constitutional powers of the president. The Core Group, a US and Canada led alliance of foreign ambassadors that heavily influences Haitian affairs, released a statement critical of Moïse’s intelligence agency decree. (But, I could not find a mention of the Core Group statement on either the Canadian ambassador or Canada in Haiti Twitter accounts.)
Alongside the intelligence agency announcement, Moïse decreed new legislation “for strengthening public security”. It includes massive fines and 50-year jail sentences for individuals convicted of “terrorism” related charges, which include the common protest tactic of blockading roads.
As it seeks to overthrow Nicolás Maduro for purported human rights violations and democratic deficiencies, the Trudeau government has endorsed Moïse’s repressive measures. After a meeting with the president, Canada’s ambassador Stuart Savage tweeted on December 10: “Important discussion with Jovenel Moïse on this International Human Rights Day on the subject of democratic renewal, rule of law and food security.” Savage failed to criticize Moïse’s bid to extend his term, rewrite the constitution, establish an intelligence agency or label road blockades “terrorism”.
Even before these recent unconstitutional measures, partnering with Moïse to demand Maduro follow Canada’s interpretation of the Venezuelan constitution was laughable. Moïse is the hand-picked successor of Michel Martellywho the US, Canada and Organization of American States inserted into the presidency after the horrific 2010 earthquake. A relatively obscure businessman who had never held public office, Moïse benefited from two million dollars in public funds (ironically stolen from Venezuelan assistance) funneled his way by the Martelly administration. According to official figures, Moïse received 595,000 votes — just 9.6 percent of registered voters in the 2016 election. (For his part, Maduro received the support of 27% of registered voters in the May 2018 presidential election.)
Moïse faced an unprecedented popular uprising against his presidency between July 2018 and late 2019. The country’s urban areas were paralyzed by a handful of general strikes, including one that largely shuttered Port-au-Prince for a month. The only reason the unpopular president is still in office is because of diplomatic, financial and policing support from Ottawa and Washington.
Shining a light on Canadian policy towards Haiti makes clear that its bid to replace Maduro as President of Venezuela is not about democracy. Ottawa is completely comfortable with an undemocratic government in Haiti.
With Chileans voting overwhelming to rewrite the country’s Pinochet era constitution it’s a good moment to reflect on Ottawa’s support for his coup against Salvador Allende. It’s also worth looking at Canadian companies’ opposition to the popular uprising that lead to the referendum on reforming the dictatorship’s neoliberal constitution.
On Sunday nearly 8 in 10 Chileans voted to rewrite the country’s Augusto Pinochet era constitution. The vote was the culmination of months of antigovernment protests that began against a hike in transit fares last October and morphed into a broader challenge to economic inequality and other injustices. The dictatorship’s constitution entrenches pro-capitalist policies and was widely seen as contributing to the country’s large economic divide.
The Pierre Trudeau government was hostile to Allende’s elected government and predisposed to supporting Pinochet’s dictatorship. Days after the September 11 1973 coup against Allende, Andrew Ross, Canada’s ambassador to Chile cabled External Affairs: “Reprisals and searches have created panic atmosphere affecting particularly expatriates including the riffraff of the Latin American Left to whom Allende gave asylum … the country has been on a prolonged political binge under the elected Allende government and the junta has assumed the probably thankless task of sobering Chile up.” Thousands were incarcerated, tortured and killed in “sobering Chile up”.
Within three weeks of the coup, Canada recognized Pinochet’s military junta. Diplomatic support for Pinochet led to economic assistance. Just after the coup Canada voted for a $22 million Inter American Development Bank loan “rushed through the bank with embarrassing haste.” Ottawa immediately endorsed sending $95 million from the International Monetary Fund to Chile and supported renegotiating the country’s debt held by the Paris Club. After refusing to provide credits to the elected government, on October 2nd, 1973, Export Development Canada announced it was granting $5 million in credit to Chile’s central bank to purchase six Twin Otter aircraft from De Havilland, which could carry troops to and from short makeshift strips.
By 1978, Canadian support for the coup d’etat was significant. It included:
Support for $810 million in multilateral loans with Canada’s share amounting to about $40 million.
Five EDC facilities worth between $15 and $30 million.
Two Canadian debt re-schedulings for Chile, equivalent to additional loans of approximately $5 million.
Twenty loans by Canadian chartered banks worth more than $100 million, including a 1977 loan by Toronto Dominion to DINA (Pinochet’s secret police) to purchase equipment.
Direct investments by Canadian companies valued at nearly $1 billion.
Prominent Canadian capitalists such as Peter Munk and Conrad Black were supporters of Pinochet.
When the recent protests began against billionaire president Sebastián Piñera in October, Trudeau supported the embattled right-wing leader. Two weeks into massive demonstrations against Piñera’s government, the PM held a phone conversation with the Chilean president who had a 14% approval rating. According to Amnesty International, 19 people had already died and dozens more were seriously injured in protests. A couple thousand were also arrested by a government that declared martial law and sent the army onto the streets for the first time since Pinochet. A Canadian Press story on the conversation noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Pinera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”
Rather than express concern about state-backed repression in Chile, the Prime Minister criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia” during his October conversation with Piñera. The false claims of “election irregularities” were then being used to justify ousting leftist indigenous president Evo Morales.
Amidst the massive demonstrations against Piñera in October, Trudeau also discussed Venezuela. In another phone conversation with Piñera two months ago Trudeau again raised “the situation in Venezuela”, according to the official readout, as he did in February 2018 and previously.
Chile is the top destination for Canadian investment in Latin America at over $20 billion. Over 50% of Chile’s large mining industry is Canadian owned and Canadian firms are major players in the country’s infrastructure. Scotiabank is one of the country’s biggest banks.
A number of stories highlighted Scotiabank’s concerns about the protests against inequality that ultimately lead to Sunday’s constitutional referendum. The Financial Post noted, “Scotiabank’s strategic foray into Latin America hits a snag with Chile unrest” and “Riots, state of emergency in Chile force Scotiabank to postpone investor day.” The CEO of the world’s 40th largest bank blamed the protests on an “intelligence breakdown” with people outside Chile “that came in with an intention of creating havoc.” In a January story titled “Why Brian Porter is doubling down on Scotiabank’s Latin American expansion”, he told the Financial Post that Twitter accounts tied to Russia sparked the unrest against Piñera!
Canadian companies, with Ottawa’s support, have led a number of environmentally and socially destructive projects in Chile. In the mid 2000s Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management led a consortium, with US $700 million invested by the Canadian Pension Plan and British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, pushing to build a massive power line and dams in Chile’s Patagonia region, one of the planet’s greatest environmental treasures. “This kind of project could never be implemented in a full-fledged democracy,” explained Juan Pablo Orrego, a prominent Chilean environmentalist, to the Georgia Straight. “Our country is still under a constitutional, political, and financial checkmate to democracy which was put in place during the [Pinochet] military dictatorship and empowers the private sector.”
Sunday’s referendum is a blow to Canadian corporations operating in Chile and the Trudeau government’s alliance with right-wing governments in the Hemisphere.
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.