Canada’s Venezuelan Meddling a Pre-election Diversion

Canada’s Venezuelan Meddling a Pre-election Diversion

As published by the Victoria Standard: April 10, 2019

As a member of the Lima Group, Canada has chosen to interfere in the politics of Venezuela, a troubled but sovereign state. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has publicly declared Canada’s intentions regarding so-called democracy promotion.

Unfortunately, Canada’s stance ignores both the negative effects on Venezuela of long-term U.S. trade sanctions and the violent failures of recent democracy promotion campaigns in the Middle East. Like Iraq and Libya, Venezuela has vast oil reserves of great interest to American and Canadian oil companies.

The Lima group, a coalition of 14 Latin American states plus Canada, recently met in Ottawa to discuss ways to basically effect Venezuelan regime change, replacing President Nicolas Maduro with a relative unknown: interim National Assembly President Juan Guaido. Incidentally, this scheme is forbidden under the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) a separate group of countries including the U.S. and Brazil.

The Lima Group, the Trump administration and its OAS allies claim that Maduro’s 2018 election was fraudulent and support Juan Guaido’s willingness to replace him as acting president until new elections are held. However, since Maduro enjoys strong armed forces support, the Lima Group is attempting to shift military loyalty to Guaido and also fund him with frozen Venezuelan financial assets currently unavailable to Maduro under U.S. sanctions.

Further, Guiado’s justification for replacing Maduro is the unproven claim that Maduro had “abandoned” the presidency in 2018 since the major opposition parties had boycotted the election. This claim is undermined by the fact that opposition politicians failed to mention Maduro’s alleged fraud during the election period.

Understanding recent Venezuela history requires mention of the country’s deceased former president Hugo Chavez. Prior to his 1998 election, Venezuela was reeling from an economic crisis caused largely by the policies of Chavez’s dictatorial predecessor Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Under Jiménez, Venezuela experienced a program of huge tax breaks for its wealthy citizens and American corporations, privatization of public assets and deep cuts to social programs, an economic policy called neoliberalism.

Between 1998 and his 2013 death Chavez’s policies had mainly benefited average Venezuelans. While he did fail in invest sufficient funds in oil technology and infrastructure, he did direct oil profits to public healthcare, housing and education. Like Castro, Chavez chose the risky path of an independent foreign policy that prioritized the well-being of his fellow citizens over U.S. regional interests.

Perhaps the worst blow to U.S. – Venezuela relations was Chavez’s efforts to shift oil exports from the U.S. to China as well as his decision to conduct Venezuelan oil sales in Chinese Yuan currency rather than U.S. dollars. These policies likely inspired the 2012 coup attempt, U.S. sanctions and open hints about violent regime change from American officials like John Bolton, a former UN ambassador noted for favoring military interventions.

Unfortunately for Venezuela, the United States wields considerable influence over Canada, the Lima Group and the OAS. The Trump government is determined to continue its regime of punishing sanctions to drive Nicolas Maduro from power. Previous sanctions, combined with a global drop in oil prices, had made it impossible for Maduro to continue the Chavez legacy.

Venezuela’s national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is now blocked from selling oil to the U.S. and the Trump government is pressuring U.S. allies to shun Maduro. While PDVSA remains under sanction, Chevron and oil services company Halliburton have been granted waivers to continue operating in Venezuela.

Considering Trudeau’s low approval numbers and the looming October, 2019 federal election, Canada’s role in hosting the Lima Group provides a timely diversion to the SNC Lavelin controversy. Canada’s anti-Maduro stance simultaneously pleases the Trump administration and positions Canada for favourable trade arrangements. As well, it is unlikely that a Conservative prime minister would have approached Venezuela in a different manner than Trudeau’s Liberals have.

Canada’s democracy may be more settled than Venezuela’s but that stability owes as much to geography and historical alliances as it does to the positive qualities of Canada and its citizens. It is certain that most Canadians would strongly resist foreign interference in their nation’s affairs. Therefore, no matter the strife in Venezuela, it is vital that Canadian politicians grant Venezuelans the same moral and intellectual standing they automatically assume for themselves.