Category Archives: Venezuela

Trudeau’s extraordinary campaign to overthrow Maduro

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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.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Latin America, Venezuela

Canada out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS

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“Qui se ressemble, s’assemble.” The English saying is “birds of a feather flock together.” Translated from Spanish: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The folk wisdom that who we hang out with tells a lot about us is reflected in numerous proverbs.

Whatever the language, who Ottawa chooses to hang out with tells us a lot about who Canada is in the Americas. The coalitions/institutions Ottawa is part of in the Americas speak of siding with the rich and powerful, of being part of the US Empire, of imperialism.

Recently Haiti joined the Lima Group of governments seeking to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Instigated by Canada and Peru in mid 2017, the Lima Group has successfully corralled regional support for the US-led campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The coalition has gathered on a dozen occasions — including a third summit to be held in Canada on Thursday — to develop common positions and strategize on regime change.

President Jovenel Moïse’s decision to join the Lima Group highlights the influence of another Canadian-sponsored imperial group of friends. Unlike the Trudeau government’s anti-Venezuela positions, Moïse’s steps towards the Lima Group have been controversial in Haiti. When his government first voted against Venezuela at the Organization of American States (OAS) 13 months ago it stoked the fire of popular discontent that nearly toppled him. Until recently Haiti benefited from the discounted Venezuelan Petrocaribe oil program, which Moïse and his acolytes pilfered, spurring massive protests over the past 18 months. More generally, Haitians overwhelmingly view themselves as anti-imperialist and are proud their ancestors aided South American independence leaders Simon Bolivar and Miranda to defeat Spanish rule.

As popular discontent has grown, Moïse has become increasingly dependent on outside backing. The only reason Moïse is president is because of the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”, which comprises the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Brazil and Spain, as well as representatives of the EU and OAS. Core Group representatives meet regularly among themselves and with Haitian officials and periodically release collective statements on Haitian affairs.

Last month Radio Canada’s investigative programme Enquête pointed out that the Core Group was spawned at the “Ottawa initiative on Haiti”. Held at the Meech Lake Government Resort on January 31 and February 1, 2003, no Haitian officials were invited to the private gathering where US, French, OAS and Canadian officials discussed overthrowing Haiti’s elected government, putting the country under UN trusteeship and recreating the Haitian military.

Since the subsequent February 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide the Core Group has heavily influenced Haitian affairs. But, taking office two and a half years after the coup, René Préval succeeded in carving out some room to govern independently of the Core Group overseers — joining Venezuela’s Petrocaribe, for instance — but the January 2010 earthquake devastated the Haitian government. Taking advantage of its weakness, the Core Group pushed for elections to be held months after the earthquake and when their preferred candidate was in third place they dispatched an OAS “Expert Verification Mission” that determined (without offering proof) extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly deserved to be in the second round runoff. In effect, the Core Group employed the OAS to reassert their primacy over Haitian affairs.

Headquartered in the US capital, the OAS has long been a tool of Washington’s and capitalism’s dominance of the region. A few months ago OAS electoral observers played an important role in the overthrow of Evo Morales, prompting Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president to label the organization “in the service of the North American empire.”

The OAS receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington. Responsible for as much as 12% of the organization’s budget, Canada is the second largest contributor to the 33-nation group.

Unfortunately, interventionist/imperialist alliances reinforce each other. A representative of the OAS is part of the Core Group while the Core Group has driven Haiti into joining the Lima Group. At the same time the Lima Group’s success in stoking regional opposition to Maduro has enabled the OAS to take ever more hostile positions towards Venezuela’s government. Like a teenager getting involved with the “wrong people” this circle of “friends” has been a very bad influence. It has encouraged bullying, bribery and other anti-social imperialist behaviour.

The Lima Group and Core Group are wholly illegitimate alliances. While the Organization of American States is slightly more complicated, progressives shouldn’t hesitate to proclaim, “Canada out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS.”

 

 

Protests are being organized for Thursday and Friday in a number of Canadian cities against the Lima Group.

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Filed under Canada in Haiti, Latin America, Venezuela

Bankers shape Canadian policy in Latin America

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What’s more likely to shape Canadian policy in the Hemisphere: human rights and democracy or bankers’ bottom-line?

Last week Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa. The self-declared president met Canada’s Prime Minister, international development minister and foreign minister. Trudeau said, “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.”

Last month Guaidó was dethroned as leader of Venezuela’s national assembly. While the vote was contested, it represents a significant blow to Guaidó’s year-old claim to be Venezuela’s legitimate President. To shore up his position as opposition leader, Guaidó travelled to a number of international capitals, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and was a guest of Donald Trump at the US president’s state of the union adress.

The Ottawa stop on Guaidó’s legitimacy seeking tour was the latest installment of the Trudeau government’s multipronged effort to overthrow Nicolás Maduro’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.

On the same day Guaidó was fêted in Ottawa Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter penned “A call to action on Venezuela” in the National Post. The op-ed urged governments to “seize assets of corrupt regime officials” and to use the proceeds to give “support to the democratic movement in Venezuela.” Porter also applauded the Liberal’s “moral clarity by unambiguously condemning the Maduro regime’s abuses” and praised their “tremendous courage and leadership in the hemisphere and on the world stage.”

Scotiabank has long had frosty relations with the Bolivarian government. A few days after Hugo Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe & Mail Report on Business published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: “Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.”

The perspective of the world’s 40th largest bank has shaped Ottawa’s position towards Caracas. At the other end of the continent, its interests have contributed to the Trudeau government’s support for embattled billionaire president Sebastián Piñera. A number of stories have highlighted Scotiabank’s concerns about recent protests against inequality in Chile. 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.” Last week Scotiabank’s CEO blamed the protests that began in October on an “intelligence breakdown” with people outside Chile “that came in with an intention of creating havoc.” In a 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!

Two weeks into massive demonstrations against Pinera’s government, Trudeau 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 that began against a hike in transit fares and morphed into a broader challenge to economic inequality. A couple thousand were also arrested by a government that declared martial law and sent the army onto the streets.

According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau and Piñera discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president and the Prime Minister criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia”, which were disingenuously used to justify ousting leftist indigenous president Evo Morales. A Canadian Press story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Piñera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”

Despite numerous appeals from Canada’s Chilean community, the Trudeau government has stayed quiet concerning the fiercest repression in Chile since Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. A delegation of Québec parliamentarians, professors and union leaders that travelled to Chile in late January recently demanded Ottawa speak out against the abuses (four died in protest related violence last week). In a release about the delegation Mining Watch noted that over 50% of Chile’s large mining industry is Canadian owned. Canadian firms are also major players in the country’s infrastructure and Scotiabank is one of the country’s biggest banks. Chile is the top destination for Canadian investment in Latin America at over $20 billion.

As I detail in my forthcoming book House of Mirrors — Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy (Black Rose), the Liberals have said little about hundreds of killings by regimes in Haiti, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. On the other hand, they’ve aggressively condemned rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Many on the Left would say that is because those governments are aligned with Washington, which is true. But, it’s also because they are friendly to corporate Canada. If you want to understand Ottawa’s positions in Latin America look to what Canadian bankers have to say.

 

House of Mirrors — Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy will be released in March. To help organize an event for the Spring tour please email yvesengler (@) hotmail.com.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Latin America, Venezuela

Unifor aligns with Liberal foreign policy instead of international solidarity

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Chrystia Freeland and Unifor President Jerry Dias

Inviting Chrystia Freeland to address this week’s Unifor convention undermines the union’s claims of international solidarity. As Foreign Affairs Minister, Freeland has pursued staunchly pro-corporate and pro-US policies. She has been bad for workers and their families around the world. Let us count a few of the ways:

  1. Freeland’s department continues to offer diplomatic and other forms of support to mining companies responsible for major abuses abroad. The Liberals broke their promise to establish a genuine ombudsperson to supervise Canadian mining companies’ international operations.
  2. Freeland has campaigned aggressively to overthrow Venezuela’s government. She played a central role in establishing the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to President Nicolas Maduro and has introduced four rounds of unilateral sanctions against Venezuelan officials. The Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for claiming the right wing head of Venezuela’s national assembly was president, which included Freeland speaking to Juan Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”
  3. One of Freeland’s allies in the Lima Group, which claims to be promoting Venezuela’s constitution, explicitly defied his own constitution in running for re-election. Global Affairs Canada immediately endorsed Honduran narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez’ farcical 2017 election ‘victory’.
  4. Freeland has pressured Havana to turn on Caracas. Joining Washington’s effort to squeeze Cuba, Global Affairs Canada recently closed the visa section at its embassy in Havana, forcing Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents.
  5. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Ottawa has propped up a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president who has faced multiple general strikes and mass protests calling for his removal.
  6. The Liberals have also failed to keep their promise to re-engage diplomatically with Iran. Worse still, Freeland has echoed the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.
  7. Freeland has deepened ties to an opponent of Iran pursuing violent, anti-democratic, policies in Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Last May Freeland met United Arab Emirates foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and the Liberals have signed a series of accords with the repressive monarchy.
  8. Freeland is anti-Palestinian. Just before a November meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Freeland touted Canada’s “unwavering and ironclad” support for Israel and her ministry has justified the killing of peaceful Palestinian protesters. Isolating Canada from world opinion, Freeland sided with the US, Israel and some tiny Pacific island states in opposing a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood backed by 176 nations.
  9. Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi propagandist. While obviously not responsible for her grandpa’s misdeeds during World War II, Freeland has praised him and deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to “destabilize” Canadian democracy. In so doing she has stoked Russophobia. Ottawa has ramped up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) and recently added Ukraine to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which allows Canadian companies to export weapons to that country with little restriction.

A March 2017 memo from the US embassy in Ottawa to the State Department in Washington entitled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy” claimed Justin Trudeau appointed Freeland foreign minister in order to promote the interests of the Donald Trump administration. The cable was authored just weeks after Freeland was appointed foreign minister and in it US officials conclude that Trudeau promoted Freeland “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts” and that her “number one priority” was working closely with Washington.

A knowledgeable critic of Canadian foreign policy recently told me they thought Freeland was worse than Conservative foreign minister John Baird. This may be true. The question for Unifor is what more would Freeland have to do to make her unacceptable as a keynote speaker?

Inviting Freeland to their convention is part of the union’s controversial embrace of the Liberal Party (Prime Minister Trudeau also spoke). But, it also reflects indifference to the injustices Canada contributes to abroad. I couldn’t find a single Unifor statement that directly criticized Freeland or Canadian foreign policy (the union is a member of Common Frontiers, which has criticized Canadian policy in Venezuela and Honduras). But, the union has devoted significant energy and resources to promoting a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico. On Tuesday when Freeland addresses the convention Unifor is giving their Nelson Mandela award to Romeo Dallaire. As I detail here, applauding the aggressive liberal imperialist is wrong and giving Dallaire an award named after Mandela is simply embarrassing.

Giving a former general an award, boycotting Mexican cars and inviting Freeland/Trudeau – combined with failing to challenge Canadian foreign policy – reflects a union aligned with Canada’s ruling class against working people elsewhere. It’s a shame that six years after its creation Unifor has jettisoned the progressive, internationalist rhetoric that was part of its founding.

Hopefully, rank and file members can reclaim their union. A good way to start might be to demonstrate their disapproval of Freeland’s invitation to speak at the convention.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Middle East, Venezuela

Liberals use ‘human rights’ to push coup in Venezuela

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Chrystia Freeland, Michelle Bachelet and Ben Roswell

The modern way to overthrow a government the capitalist world doesn’t like is by claiming to do it in the name of supporting ‘human rights’. This requires that the target be portrayed as a rights violator.

As part of their effort to overthrow Nicolas Maduro’s government, Ottawa has funded and promoted a slew of groups and individuals critical of human rights in Venezuela. And a recent report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) gave a boost to Canada’s faltering coup bid in that South American country. Overseen by former social democratic Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, the report paints Venezuelan security forces as extremely violent and the government as politically repressive.

While the Hugo Chavez/Maduro government’s failure to address insecurity/police violence in the country is condemnable, some context is required. Neighbours Colombia and Brazil also have significant problems with police and other forms of violence. As do countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, etc.

Instead of offering a roadmap for remedying the scourge of violence and divisions in the country, the one-sided OHCHR report offers a public relations triumph to those pursuing regime change, which would likely plunge the country into greater violence. As former OHCHR Independent Expert Alfred de Zayas pointed out, Bachelet “should have clearly condemned the violence by extreme right opposition leaders and the calls for foreign intervention in Venezuela.” The human rights law expert, who produced a report on Venezuela last year, added that the “report should also have focussed on the criminality of the repeated attempts at a coup d’etat [because] there is nothing more undemocratic than a coup.”

On Saturday thousands marched in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities to reject the OHCHR report. For its part, the Venezuelan government responded with a 70-point rebuttal and Maduro wrote an open letter challenging the OHCHR report. According to Caracas, more than 80% of the 558 individuals interviewed by the OHCHR were not in Venezuela and Maduro asked, “can a political project legitimized 23 times at the ballot box in the last twenty years be called a dictatorship?” The Venezuelan government also criticized the OHCHR for failing to call for the lifting of unilateral sanctions, which the Center for Economic and Policy Research recently found responsible for 40,000 deaths from August 2017 to the end of 2018. The sanctions have become more extreme since. A Financial Times story last week titled “Venezuela sanctions fuel famine fears” and a New York Times op-ed titled “Misguided sanctions hurt Venezuelans” highlight their growing impact.

Canada has adopted four rounds of unilateral sanctions against Venezuela. It also contributed to the one-sided OHCHR report. In mid-June Bachelet met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and foreign minister Chrystia Freeland. They reportedly discussed Venezuela. Bachelet also participated in a panel with Freeland on “the global fight for human rights.” It was moderated by former Canadian Ambassador in Venezuela Ben Roswell, who has been Canada’s most vocal advocate for overthrowing Maduro’s government.

Even more dubious, Bachelet met self-declared Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó’s “ambassador” in Canada Orlando Viera Blanco. Accompanied by Chile’s ambassador, Alejandro Marisio, Viera-Blanco gave Bachelet a dossier of purported human rights abuses in Venezuela. In a sign of how seriously he took the report and Bachelet’s then upcoming visit to Venezuela, Viera-Blanco posted two dozen tweets related to meeting Bachelet.

The statement released by Bachelet’s office at the end of her two-day visit to Montreal and Ottawa reflects what could be described as an ‘imperialistic human rights agenda’. In a press release titled “Canada ‘a welcome ally’ in advancing human rights around the world”, Bachelet declared, “Canada is a leader in promoting the international human rights agenda and the benefits of the rules-based international order.” That’s a Trudeau government talking point that doesn’t withstand minimal scrutiny. During their mandate the Liberals have cozied up with repressive Middle East monarchies, backed brutal mining companies, justified Israeli violence against Palestinians, enabled a corrupt, illegitimate and murderous Haitian president to remain in power, allied with an unconstitutional Honduran government, deployed troops on various NATO missions, failed to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refused to support nuclear weapons controls, increased military spending, etc.

Why would Bachelet and the OHCHR lend themselves to the US-led campaign against Venezuela’s government? The anti-Maduro Lima Group and Chilean president Sebastián Piñera have pressured Bachelet to criticize the Maduro government. In fact, Bachelet’s government joined the Lima Group of countries opposed to the Maduro government.

The OHCHR is dependent on countries hostile to Maduro for its funding. About 45% of its budget comes from general UN funds and most of the rest from discretionary state contributions. Norway, Britain, European Commission, Sweden, Denmark and the US are its top donors. Canada was the OHCHR’s ninth biggest national funder in 2018 and the tenth biggest in the first six months of this year.

What prompted me to dissect the OHCHR report was an email sent to my mother from a politically sympathetic family member who asked whether it was a mistake to dog Trudeau on Venezuela. (At a public event last month I repeatedly yelled “Hands off Venezuela”, “end illegal Canadian sanctions”, “non a l’intervention Canadien au Venezuela” a few feet from the Prime Minister and a week ago I yelled “hands off Venezuela” and “end the Illegal Canadian sanctions” as Trudeau left a press conference. In a similar vein, some 50 individuals confronted Freeland about Venezuela at a Canada Day barbecue and last week activists in London, Ontario, challenged Trudeau on Venezuela at a music festival.) My relative wrote that he supported countries’ right to self-determination but felt that Bachelet’s report was a credible indictment of the Maduro government.

But if the attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government were really about human rights violations how do you explain the lack of similar Canadian (or other Western nations) action against dozens of countries with terrible human rights records but that do not challenge capitalism?

Even those inclined to believe some of the more extreme criticisms leveled against the Venezuelan government should support the protesters, not our government. The likely result of Canada succeeding in its current path is a civil war in Venezuela. Moreover, it would set a bad precedent if Canada were to succeed in its brazen coup mongering. (In a further sign of the brashness of their campaign, the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers gave Patricia Atkinson, Head of the Venezuela Task Force at Global Affairs Canada, its Foreign Service Officers award last month. The write up explained, “Patricia, and the superb team she assembled and led, supported the Minister’s engagement and played key roles in the substance and organization of 11 meetings of the 13 country Lima group which coordinates action on Venezuela. She assisted in developing three rounds of sanctions against the regime.”)

Whatever one thinks of Maduro, Canada’s interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and unilateral sanctions contravene the “rules-based international order” Trudeau, Freeland and Bachelet claim Ottawa upholds. But, Parliament and the media largely play along so it’s only through grassroots activism that we can hope to pry open the discussion and rein in our government.

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Ottawa hires hitman to overthrow Venezuelan government

 

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Allan Culham

Meet the hired gun Ottawa is using to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

The brazenness of Ottawa’s intervention in the South American country’s affairs is remarkable. Recently Global Affairs Canada tendered a contract for an individual to coordinate its bid to oust President Nicolás Maduro. According to buyandsell.gc.ca, the Special Advisor on Venezuela needs to be able to:

“Use your network of contacts to advocate for expanded support to pressure the illegitimate government to return constitutional order.

“Use your network of civil society contacts on the ground in Venezuela to advance priority issues (as identified by civil society/Government of Canada).

Must have valid Government of Canada personnel TOP SECRET security clearance.”

The “Proposed Contractor” is Allan Culham who has been Special Advisor on Venezuela since the fall of 2017. But, the government is required to post the $200,000 contract to coordinate Canada’s effort to overthrow the Maduro government.

Culham is a former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Organization of American States. During his time as ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2005 Culham was hostile to Hugo Chavez’s government. According to a WikiLeaks publication of US diplomatic messages, “Canadian Ambassador Culham expressed surprise at the tone of Chavez’s statements during his weekly television and radio show ‘Hello President’ on February 15 [2004]. Culham observed that Chavez’s rhetoric was as tough as he had ever heard him. ‘He sounded like a bully,’ said Culham, more intransigent and more aggressive.”

The US cable quotes Culham criticizing the national electoral council and speaking positively about the group overseeing a presidential recall referendum targeting Chavez. “Culham added that Sumate is impressive, transparent, and run entirely by volunteers”, it noted. The name of then head of Súmate, Maria Corina Machado, was on a list of people who endorsed the April 2002 military coup against Chavez, for which she faced charges of treason. She denied signing the now-infamous Carmona Decree that dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and suspended the elected government, attorney general, comptroller general, and governors as well as mayors elected during Chavez’s administration. It also annulled land reforms and reversed increases in royalties paid by oil companies.

After retiring from the civil service in 2015 Culham described his affinity for another leading hard-line opposition leader. Canada’s current Special Advisor on Venezuela wrote, “I met [Leopoldo] López when he was the mayor of the Caracas municipality of Chacao where the Canadian Embassy is located. He too became a good friend and a useful contact in trying to understand the many political realities of Venezuela.” But, López also endorsed the failed 2002 coup against Chavez and was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests that sought to oust Maduro. Forty-three Venezuelans died, hundreds were hurt and a great deal of property was damaged during the “guarimbas” protests. Lopez was also a key organizer of the recent plan to anoint the marginal opposition legislator Juan Guaidó interim president.

In his role as Canada’s ambassador to the OAS Culham repeatedly took positions viewed as hostile by the Chavez/Maduro governments. When Chavez fell gravely ill in 2013, he proposed the OAS send a mission to study the situation, which then Vice-president Maduro described as a “miserable” intervention in the country’s affairs. Culham’s comments on the 2014 “guarimbas” protests and support for Machado speaking at the OAS were also unpopular with Caracas.

At the OAS Culham criticized other left-of-centre governments. Culham blamed elected President Rafael Correa for supposedly closing “democratic space” in Ecuador, not long after a failed coup attempt in 2010. When describing the Honduran military’s overthrow of social democratic president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 Culham refused to employ the term coup and instead described it as a “political crisis”.

In June 2012, the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61-years of one-party rule, Paraguay’s ruling class claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc. A week after the coup Culham participated in an OAS mission that many member countries opposed. Largely designed to undermine those countries calling for Paraguay’s suspension from the OAS, delegates from the US, Canada, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico traveled to Paraguay to investigate Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.

Four years later Culham still blamed Lugo for his ouster. He wrote: “President Lugo was removed from office for ‘dereliction and abandonment of duty’ in the face of rising violence and street protests (that his government was itself instigating through his inflammatory rhetoric) over the issue of land rights. Violence in both the countryside and the streets of Asuncion threatened to engulf Paraguay’s already fragile democratic institutions. Lugo’s impeachment and removal from office by the Paraguayan Congress, later ratified by the Supreme Court, launched a firestorm of protest and outrage amongst the presidents of Paraguay’s neighbours. Presidents Rousseff of Brazil, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, were the chief defenders of Lugo’s right to remain in office.”

After retiring from the civil service Culham became more candid about his hostility to those trying to overcome extreme power imbalances in the hemisphere, decrying “the nationalist, bombastic and populist rhetoric that many leaders of Latin America have used to great effect over the last 15 years.” For Culham, “the Bolivarian Alliance … specialized in sowing its own divisive ideology and its hopes for a revolutionary ‘class struggle’ across the hemisphere.”

Culham praised the defeat of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff Brazil.

In a 2015 piece titled “So long, Kirchners” he wrote, “the Kirchner era in Argentine politics and economics is thankfully coming to an end.” (Kirchner is the front runner in the upcoming election.) The next year Culham criticized Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s bid to have UNASUR challenge her impeachment, which he celebrated as “a sign of change in Latin America”.

Culham denounced regional integration efforts. In a long February 2016 Senate foreign affairs committee discussion of Argentina, he denounced diplomatic forums set up by Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and others to break from US domination of the region. “Since I’m no longer a civil servant”, Culham stated, “I will say that CELAC [The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] is not a positive organization within the Americas. Mainly because it’s built on the principle of exclusion. It purposefully excludes Canada and United States. It was the product of President Chavez and the Chavista Bolivarian revolution.” Every single country in the hemisphere except for Canada and the US were members of CELAC.

Culham criticized left-wing governments position at the US dominated OAS. Culham bemoaned the “negative influence ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America] countries have brought to the OAS” and said Argentina “often sided with Bolivarian revolution members” in their “negative agenda” at the OAS, which he called “very close to my heart”.

In his comments to the Senate committee Culham criticized Kirchner for failing to pay the full price to US “vulture funds”, which bought up the country’s debt at a steep discount after it defaulted in 2001. He described Kirchner’s refusal to bow down to highly predatory hedge funds as a threat to the “Toronto Stock Exchange” and labeled a Scotia Bank claim from the 2001 financial crisis a “bilateral irritant” for Canada.

Canadian taxpayers are paying a hardline pro-corporate, pro-Washington, former diplomat hundreds of thousands of dollars to coordinate the Liberal government’s bid to oust Venezuela’s government. Surely, there is someone in the House of Commons willing to inquire about Canada’s Elliot Abrams?

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Canada’s leading apologist for Israeli war crimes disrupted

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Irwin Cotler at Concordia University

Last week members of Quebec Movement for Peace disrupted a speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights leader” (at the last-minute ‘deputy’ foreign minister, Rob Oliphant, canceled his participation). With “Free Palestine” signs in hand, filmmaker Malcolm Guy and I took the stage to denounce Cotler’s anti-Palestinian positions and support for intervention in Venezuela and Iran. After we were ushered off the stage lawyer Dimitri Lascaris rose to interrogate the supposed human rights activist for refusing to criticize injustices inflicted upon Palestinians. Part of the way through Lascaris’ grilling a handful of us at the back of the room began chanting “Cotler, Cotler, you will see Palestine will be free”, as one can hear in this video viewed over 10,000 times.

The Electronic Intifada, Media Coop, Algemeiner and Canadian Jewish News (twice) reported on the intervention (CPAC was purportedly live streaming the event). Prominent anti-Palestinian activists such as Gerald Steinberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Benlolo and Bernie Farber decried our challenge of their hero. Head of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG), Michael Levitt created the Twitter hashtag StandWithCotler and called on other MPs to support it, which was duly followed by his CIIG colleagues, including disgraceful NDP MP Randall Garrison. In the House of Commons CIIG Vice-Chair David Sweet asked the government to condemn our disruption of Cotler. The Conservative MP noted, “on Monday he was disrupted and berated during a speech at Concordia University in an attempt by protesters to shut him down.” (After 10 minutes we voluntarily left the room and Cotler spoke extensively.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Oliphant, who was scheduled to speak alongside Cotler, expressed the government’s solidarity with the former Liberal party justice minister.

Cotler is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes “enemy” states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. In “Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize” I detail Cotler’s long-standing devotion to Israeli violence and recent promotion of war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela. But, since that story was published in March more details have emerged about Cotler’s ethno-centrism and promotion of violence. In recent days Cotler has been widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

According to an Israel National News story, Cotler supports relocating Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem. During “Keep Jerusalem” leader Chaim Silberstein’s visit to Canada last month, Cotler reportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for moving the Canadian embassy and “promised to help promote” the idea within the Liberal party.

In response to our action activist Ron Saba shared a photo of Cotler at last year’s Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. The explicitly racist JNF excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. In 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency initiated an (ongoing) audit of the JNF for supporting the Israeli military in contravention of Canadian charitable law.

For his part, Masud Sheikh responded to our action by uploading a video — apparently scrubbed from the Internet after previously reaching a Canadian audience — of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee advising Israel on planning a war. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.

He did something similar after an earlier Israeli invasion of its northern neighbour. In an April article retired Guelph professor Michael Keefer wrote: “In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference on Hasbara: Israel’s Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF’s violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon’s diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor’s allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it ‘make Hasbara a priority’ and enhance its capacity to offer ‘an authoritative rebuttal’ to such stories.”

In that article Keefer points out that Antony Lerman, founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, called Cotler “one of the key figures” promoting the idea of a “new antisemitism”. Since the 1970s he’s been arguing that criticism of Israel is the “new antisemitism”.

In a remarkable 2002 essay titled “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness” Cotler lays out his thinking, suggesting a confrontation between the “secular religion” of human rights and Jewish “civil religion” of Zionism. He argues that criticizing Israeli human rights violations is “the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as the ‘poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’ — as the ‘poisoner of the international wells’ encompassing all the ‘teaching of contempt’ for the ‘Jew among the Nations,’ this new antisemitism implies.”

Cotler further argues that antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the ‘civil religion’ of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” So, because most Jews identify with Israel criticizing that country’s violence or dispossession of Palestinians is anti-Semitic.

Challenging Cotler is important. All high-profile anti-Palestinians should be asked tough questions and hopefully our intervention inspires others to take similar actions. But, it’s also about de-mystifying an individual who retains a progressive gloss. Last month NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a press conference organized by Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and list the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. New NDP foreign critic Guy Caron participated in a subsequent event on Iran and NDP MP Murray Rankin and May regularly attend events led by Cotler. May and Rankin are also part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights.

The Cotler ‘brand’ should be toxic on the Left. Politicians need to know that many Canadians — as Lascaris put it in his concluding statement to Cotler — consider him “a fraud when it comes to human rights.”

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Trudeau government squeezes Cuba

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Chrystia Freeland and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

Ottawa faces a dilemma. How far are Trudeau’s Liberals prepared to go in squeezing Cuba? Can Canadian corporations with interests on the island restrain the most pro-US, anti-socialist, elements of the ruling class?

Recently, the Canadian Embassy in Havana closed its Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship section. Now most Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits will have to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents. In some cases Cubans will have to travel to another country at least twice to submit information to enter Canada. The draconian measure has already undercut cultural exchange and family visits, as described in a Toronto Star op-ed titled “Canada closes a door on Cuban culture”.

It’s rare for an embassy to simply eliminate visa processing, but what’s prompted this measure is the stuff of science fiction. Canada’s embassy staff was cut in half in January after diplomats became ill following a mysterious ailment that felled US diplomats sent to Cuba after Donald Trump’s election. Four months after the first US diplomats (apparently) became ill US ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis met his Canadian, British and French counterparts to ask if any of their staff were sick. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story, “none knew of any similar experiences afflicting their officials in Cuba. But after the Canadian ambassador notified his staff, 27 officials and family members there asked to be tested. Twelve were found to be suffering from a variety of symptoms, similar to those experienced by the Americans.”

With theories ranging from “mass hysteria” to the sounds of “Indies short-tailed crickets” to an “outbreak of functional disorders”, the medical questions remains largely unresolved. The politics of the affair are far clearer. In response, the Trump Administration withdrew most of its embassy staff in Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from Washington. They’ve rolled back measures the Obama Administration instituted to re-engage with Cuba and recently implemented an extreme measure even the George W. Bush administration shied away from.

Ottawa has followed along partly because it’s committed to overthrowing Venezuela’s government and an important talking point of the anti-Nicolás Maduro coalition is that Havana is propping him up. On May 3 Justin Trudeau called Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel to pressure him to join Ottawa’s effort to oust President Maduro. The release noted, “the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Lima Group [of countries hostile to Maduro], underscored the desire to see free and fair elections and the constitution upheld in Venezuela.” Four days later Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland added to the diplomatic pressure on Havana. She told reporters, “Cuba needs to not be part of the problem in Venezuela, but become part of the solution.” A week later Freeland visited Cuba to discuss Venezuela.

On Tuesday Freeland talked with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Venezuela and Cuba. Afterwards the State Department tweeted, “Secretary Pompeo spoke with Canada’s Foreign Minister Freeland to discuss ongoing efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. The Secretary and Foreign Minister agreed to continue working together to press the Cuban regime to provide for a democratic and prosperous future for the people of Cuba.”

Ottawa supports putting pressure on Cuba in the hopes of further isolating/demonizing the Maduro government. But, the Trudeau government is simultaneously uncomfortable with how the US campaign against Cuba threatens the interests of some Canadian-owned businesses.

The other subject atop the agenda when Freeland traveled to Havana was Washington’s decision to allow lawsuits for property confiscated after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Trump Administration recently activated a section of the Helms-Burton Act that permits Cubans and US citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property nationalized decades ago. The move could trigger billions of dollars in legal claims in US courts against Canadian and European businesses operating on the island.

Obviously, Canadian firms that extract Cuban minerals and deliver over a million vacationers to the Caribbean country each year don’t want to be sued in US courts. They want Ottawa’s backing, but the Trudeau government’s response to Washington’s move has been relatively muted. This speaks to Trudeau/Freeland’s commitment to overthrowing Venezuela’s government.

But, it also reflects the broader history of Canada-Cuba ties. Despite the hullabaloo around Ottawa’s seemingly cordial relations with Havana, the reality is more complicated than often presented. Similar to Venezuela today, Ottawa has previously aligned with US fear-mongering about the “Cuban menace” in Latin America and elsewhere. Even Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously declared “viva Castro” during a trip to that country in 1976, denounced (highly altruistic) Cuban efforts to defend newly independent Angola from apartheid South Africa’s invasion. In response, Trudeau stated, “Canada disapproves with horror [of] participation of Cuban troops in Africa” and later terminated the Canadian International Development Agency’s small aid program in Cuba as a result.

After the 1959 Cuban revolution Ottawa never broke off diplomatic relations, even though most other countries in the hemisphere did. Three Nights in Havana explains part of why Ottawa maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba: “Recently declassified State Department documents have revealed that, far from encouraging Canada to support the embargo, the United States secretly urged Diefenbaker to maintain normal relations because it was thought that Canada would be well positioned to gather intelligence on the island.” Washington was okay with Canada’s continued relations with the island. It simply wanted assurances, which were promptly given, that Canada wouldn’t take over the trade the US lost. For their part, Canadian business interests in the country, which were sizable, were generally less hostile to the revolution since they were mostly compensated when their operations were nationalized. Still, the more ideological elements of corporate Canada have always preferred the Cuban model didn’t exist.

If a Canadian company is sued in the US for operating in Cuba Ottawa will face greater pressure to push back on Washington. If simultaneously the Venezuelan government remains, Ottawa’s ability to sustain its position against Cuba and Venezuela is likely to become even more difficult.

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Filed under Cuba, Latin America, Venezuela

Ottawa in bed with anti-democratic, hardline part of Venezuela’s opposition

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Justin Trudeau and Irwin Cotler with Voluntad Popular’s Antonieta López and Lilian Tintori

Not only has Canada financed and otherwise supported opposition parties in Venezuela, Ottawa has allied with some of its most anti-democratic, hardline elements. While the Liberal government has openly backed Voluntad Popular’s bid to seize power since January, Ottawa has supported the electorally marginal party for years.

Juan Guaidó’s VP (Popular Will in English) party has repeatedly instigated violent protests. Not long after the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles effectively conceded defeat in January 2014, VP leader Leopoldo López launched La Salida (exit/departure) in a bid to oust Nicolas Maduro. VP activists formed the shock troops of “guarimbas” protests that left forty-three Venezuelans dead, 800 hurt and a great deal of property damaged in 2014. Dozens more were killed in a new wave of VP backed protests in 2017.

Effective at stoking violence, VP has failed to win many votes. It took 8% of the seats in the 2015 elections that saw the opposition win control of the National Assembly. With 14 out of 167 deputies in the Assembly, it won the four most seats in the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition. In the December 2012 regional elections VP was the sixth most successful party and did little better in the next year’s municipal elections.

VP was founded at the end of 2009 by Leopoldo López who “has long had close contact with American diplomats”, reported the Wall Street Journal. A great-great-grand nephew of independence leader Simón Bolívar, grandson of a former cabinet member and great-grandson of a president, López was schooled at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Between 2000 and 2008 López was the relatively successful and popular mayor of the affluent 65,000 person Caracas municipality of Chacao.

During the 2002 military coup López “orchestrated the public protests against [President Hugo] Chávez and he played a central role in the citizen’s arrest of Chavez’s interior minister.” He was given a 13-year jail sentence for inciting and planning violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests.

Canadian officials have had significant contact with López’s emissaries and party. In November 2014 Lilian Tintori visited Ottawa to meet foreign minister John Baird, Conservative cabinet colleague Jason Kenney and opposition MPs. After meeting López’s wife, Baird called for his release and other “political prisoners”, which referred to a number of other VP representatives.

Three months later VP National Political Coordinator Carlos Vecchio visited Ottawa with Leopoldo López’s sister Diana López and Orlando Viera-Blanco to speak to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. At a press conference, “Popular Will’s international wing” denounced the Venezuelan government and spoke at a McGill University forum on “Venezuela in Crisis: The Decline of Democracy and the Repression of Human Rights.”

Vecchio was appointed as the Guaidó phantom government’s “ambassador” to the US and Orlando Viera-Blanco was named its “ambassador” to Canada. In October 2017 Vecchio and VP deputy Bibiana Lucas attended the anti-Maduro Lima Group meeting in Toronto.

In June 2015 VP councillor of Sucre, Dario Eduardo Ramirez, spoke to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. In May 2016 VP Assistant National Political Coordinator Freddy Guevara and VP founding member Luis Germán Florido met foreign minister Stéphane Dion and members of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee to denounce Maduro’s government. During the trip VP’s Coordinator of International Relations Manuel Avendaño and an aide Abraham Valencia published an opinion in the Hill Times titled “Venezuela is on the brink of disaster. Here’s how Canada can help.”

The Canadian embassy in Caracas and former ambassador Ben Rowswell worked with VP officials pushing for the overthrow of the elected government. The runner-up for the embassy’s 2012 “Human Rights Prize”, Tamara Adrián, represents VP in the National Assembly. At the embassy during the presentation of the 2014 human rights award to anti-government groups were López’s lawyers and wife. In response, then president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello accused Rowswell of supporting coup plotters.

The leader of VP in Yaracuy state, Gabriel Gallo, was runner-up for the embassy’s 2015 human rights award. A coordinator of the Foro Penal NGO, Gallo was also photographed with Rowswell at the embassy’s 2017 human rights prize ceremony.

The Montreal based Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation is closely aligned with VP. Its president is Guaidó’s “ambassador” to Canada — Viera-Blanco — and its founding director is Alessa Polga whose LinkedIn page describes her as VP Canada’s Subcoordinator and Intergovernmental Relations. Polga has been invited to speak before the House of Commons and in 2017 demanded Canada follow the US in adopting sanctions on Venezuela. Justin Trudeau offered words of solidarity for a recent Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation “Gala for Venezuela” in Toronto.

In 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 VP youth outreach leader and former mayor David Smolansky spoke at the Halifax International Security Conference. During his 2018 trip to Nova Scotia Smolansky published an opinion piece in the Halifax Chronicle Herald claiming, “more than just a failed state, Venezuela is a criminal state.”

In May 2017 Tintori met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of the opposition parties. In response, Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodríguez described Lopez’s wife as an “agent of intervention” who claims the “false position of victim” while she’s aligned with “fascist” forces in Venezuela.

Three months earlier Tintori met US President Donald Trump and The Guardian reported on her role in building international support for the plan to anoint VP deputy Guaidó interim president. According to the Canadian Press, Canadian diplomats spent “months” working on that effort and the Associated Press described Canada’s “key role” in building international support for claiming a relatively marginal National Assembly member was Venezuela’s president. Presumably, Canada’s “special coordinator for Venezuela” organized these efforts which included foreign minister Chrystia Freeland speaking to Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken with Guaidó at least twice since.

Canada has strengthened VP’s hardline position within the opposition. A February Wall Street Journal article titled “‘What the Hell Is Going On?’ How a Small Group Seized Control of Venezuela’s Opposition” noted that leading opposition figures on stage with Guaidó when he declared himself interim president had no idea of his plan despite it being reliant on the Democratic Unity Roundtable’s agreement to rotate the National Assembly presidency within the coalition. (VP’s turn came due in January).

Venezuelans require a vibrant opposition that challenges the government. They don’t need Canada to boost an electorally marginal party that drives the country into increasing conflict.

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Canada’s meddling in Venezuela: the case of Ben Rowswell

Poster for Ben Rowswell’s tour across Canada.

Why does the dominant media pay so much attention to Russian “meddling” in other countries, but little to Canada’s longstanding interference in the political affairs of nations thousands of kilometres from our borders?

The case of Ben Rowswell illustrates the double standard well.

The current Canadian International Council President has been the leading non-governmental advocate of Ottawa’s quest to overthrow Venezuela’s government. In dozens of interviews, op-eds, tweets and ongoing speaking tour the former ambassador has put a liberal gloss on four months of naked imperialism. But, Rowswell has been involved in efforts to oust Nicolas Maduro since 2014 despite repeatedly claiming the president’s violation of the constitution two years ago provoked Ottawa’s recent campaign.

A March 2014 Venezuela Analysis story suggested the early adopter of digital communications was dispatched to Caracas in the hopes of boosting opposition to a government weakened by an economic downturn, the death of its leader and violent protests. Titled “New Ambassador Modernizes Canada’s Hidden Agenda in Venezuela”, the story pointed out that Rowswell immediately set up a new embassy Twitter account, soon followed by another titled SeHablaDDHH (Let’s Talk Human Rights), to rally “the angry middle classes on Twitter.” The article noted that “Rowswell is the best man to encourage such a ‘democratic’ counterrevolution, given his pedigree” in digital and hotspot diplomacy. According to a March 2014 Embassy story titled “Canada dispatches digital diplomacy devotee to Caracas”, just before the Venezuela assignment “Ottawa’s top digital diplomat … helped to establish a communications platform for Iranians and Iranian emigrants to communicate with each other, and occasionally the Canadian government, beyond the reach of that country’s censors.” Previously, Rowswell was chargé d’affaires in Iraq after the 2003 US invasion and headed the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar during the war there. An international strategy advisor in the Privy Council Office during Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien’s tenure, Rowswell created Global Affairs Canada’ Democracy Unit. Rowswell also worked with the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies, whose board of trustees includes Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the National Democratic Institute, which is part of the US National Endowment for Democracy that performs work the CIA previously did covertly.

Believing he was sent to conspire with the opposition, Caracas refused to confirm Rowswell’s appointment as ambassador. Former vice president and foreign minister José Vicente Rangel twice accused Rowswell of seeking to overthrow the government. On a July 2014 episode of his weekly television program José Vicente Hoy Rangel said, “the Embassy of Canada appears more and more involved in weird activities against the Venezuelan constitutional government.” The former Vice President claimed Canada’s diplomatic mission helped more than two dozen individuals of an “important intelligence organization” enter the country. Three months later Rangel accused Canadian officials of trying to destabilize the country by making unfounded claims Maduro supported drug trafficking and gave passports to terrorists.

In early 2015 then president of the National Assembly (not to be confused with Venezuela’s president) Diosdado Cabello accused the Canadian embassy of complicity in a failed coup. According to Cabello, an RCMP official attached to the embassy, Nancy Birbeck, visited an airport in Valencia with a member of the UK diplomatic corps to investigate its capabilities as part of the plot.

The president of the National Assembly also criticized Rowswell for presenting a human rights award to anti-government groups. Cabello said the ambassador “offered these distinctions to people of proven conspiratorial activity and who violate the fundamental rights to life of all Venezuelans.” At the embassy during the award ceremony were the lawyers and wife (Lilian Tintori) of Leopoldo López who endorsed the military’s 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez and was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests that sought to oust Maduro. Forty-three Venezuelans died, hundreds were hurt and a great deal of property was damaged during the “guarimbas” protests. Lopez was a key organizer of the recent plan to anoint Juan Guaidó interim president and Tintori met Donald Trump and other international officials, including the prime minister and many others in Ottawa, to build international support for the recent coup efforts.

Rowswell appears to have had significant contact with López and Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party. He was photographed with Voluntad Popular’s leader in Yaracuy state, Gabriel Gallo, at the embassy’s 2017 human rights award ceremony. Gallo was a coordinator of NGO Foro Penal, which was runner-up for the embassy’s 2015 Human Rights Award. (The runner-up for the 2012 award, Tamara Adrián represents Voluntad Popular in the national assembly.)

The embassy’s “Human Rights Prize” is co-sponsored with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos. The director of that organization, Raúl Herrera, repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government, saying, “the Venezuelan state systematically and repeatedly violates the Human Rights of Venezuelans.”

The “Human Rights Prize” is designed to amplify and bestow legitimacy on anti-government voices. The winner gets a “tour of several cities in Venezuela to share his or her experiences with other organizations promoting of human rights” and a trip to Canada to meet with “human rights authorities and organizations.” They generally present to Canadian Parliamentary Committees and garner media attention. The Venezuelan NGOs most quoted in the Canadian media in recent months criticizing the country’s human rights situation — Provea, Foro Penal, CODEVIDA, Observatorio Venezolano de la Conflictividad, Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, etc. — have been formally recognized by the Canadian embassy.

During Rowswell’s tenure at the embassy Canada financed NGOs with the expressed objective of embarrassing the government internationally. According to the government’s response to a July 2017 Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade report on Venezuela, “CFLI [Canadian Funding to Local Initiatives] programming includes support for a local NGO documenting the risks to journalists and freedom of expression in Venezuela, in order to provide important statistical evidence to the national and international community on the worsening condition of basic freedoms in the country.” Another CFLI initiative funded during Rowswell’s tenure in Caracas “enabled Venezuelan citizens to anonymously register and denounce corruption abuses by government officials and police through a mobile phone application.”

Just after resigning as ambassador, Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

Can you imagine the hue and cry if a Venezuelan ambassador said something similar about Canada? In recent months there have been a number of parliamentary committee and intelligence reports about Russian interference in Canada based on far less. Last month Justin Trudeau claimed, “countries like Russia are behind a lot of the divisive campaigns … that have turned our politics even more divisive and more anger-filled than they have been in the past.” That statement is 100 times more relevant to Canada/Rowswell’s interference in Venezuela than Russia’s role here.

Recently Rowswell has been speaking across the country on “How Democracy Dies: Lessons from Venezuela and the U.S.”

I wonder if the talk includes any discussion of Canadian diplomats deployed to interfere in other country’s political affairs?

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