One of Canada’s top former diplomats says that Canadians shouldn’t expect to see much more than a statement of principles coming out of an emergency Lima Group meeting on Venezuela that Ottawa is hosting Monday.
“I would expect there would be a declaration asking for movement forward, asking for continued respect for human rights and really putting it on the line that this interim president [Juan Guaido], as per the Venezuelan constitution, should be the one to step up and call for elections,” said Peter Boehm, a long-time senior diplomat with postings to Cuba, Costa Rica and the Organization of American States, in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House.
“This meeting that’s taking place will be significant in terms of putting extra pressure on for a [regime] change.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has said the goal of the summit will be to find a way to push for “peace, democracy and stability” in the crisis-ravaged country.
Protests have erupted across Venezuela since its authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro began his second term on Jan. 10. He was elected last year in a controversial election during an economic and humanitarian crisis that has seen three million Venezuelans flee the country.
“I think this ceased being a domestic issue a long time ago,” Boehm told host Chris Hall about Canada’s involvement in mediating the crisis.
“If we respect the rules-based international order, it’s up to us to rally support for change that will hopefully be peaceful.”
At a town hall in Milton, Ont. on Thursday, Trudeau admitted Canada’s goals as a mediator in the crisis are ambitious.
“I make it sound a little easy that on Monday we’re going to figure this out,” Trudeau said, acknowledging that because Maduro has the support and control of the military and judiciary, any solution will “require a difficult process.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offers a press conference in Caracas, on January 25, 2019. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)
Guaido, Venezuela’s opposition leader, has declared himself interim president. Canada has joined the United States, the European Parliament and several Latin American nations in recognizing Guaido’s claim. Russia and China — both countries which have invested heavily in oil-rich Venezuela — support Maduro, as does Turkey.
Under the country’s 1999 constitution, enacted under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, the head of the legislature — in this case, Guaido — can lead a caretaker government in the event of the absence of a lawful one until a new election can be held.
“Venezuela is a country where the government [under Maduro] is not respecting human rights, it’s not respecting its own constitution,” said Boehm, who served as Canada’s point person for the 2018 G7 summit before being appointed to the Senate in October.
Trudeau also brought up the Venezuelan constitution in his town hall comments.
“This all seems very complex and complicated and it is, but it is all grounded in human rights, the rule of law and Venezuela’s own constitution,” Trudeau said.
“This is not about Canada deciding, ‘Oh, we don’t like the way Maduro is governing, therefore we’re going to support an opposition leader to become president.’
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland addresses reporters during a meeting of the Lima Group in Mexico City last May. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)
“The international community recognized that there were not free and fair elections in Venezuela, and therefore Maduro is not the president of Venezuela in the eyes of the world and also in the eyes of Venezuelans. Article 233 actually provides for what happens when there is no president in Venezuela.”
Canada takes leadership role on Venezuela
As the world watches protesters calling for Maduro’s dismissal, and as Guaido reports that his family has been threatened by the country’s security forces, Trudeau said Canada will not be taking a backseat role.
Indeed, Trudeau said Canada’s has been leading on the issue for two years.
“It’s a complicated situation, but it’s one in which Canada has been leading the way, along with other top South American nations, over the past 18 months to two years.”
The prime minister added he’s spent the past few weeks “making calls to a significant number of global leaders to talk about the situation, because Canada has actually been involved as one of the lead members of the Lima Group.”
Boehm said it makes sense that Canada is taking a leading role within the international community on Venezuela by hosting the Lima Group meeting.
“This is our backyard, the Western hemisphere. We have a role here too,” he told Hall.
Monday’s emergency meeting will see foreign ministers from the Lima Group countries — Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Saint Lucia — come together along with representatives from other countries (such as the United Kingdom) to discuss support for Guaido.
“The significant fact is that Latin American countries have really lined up on this for the first time,” Boehm said. “They’re feeling the impact of three million refugees coming out of Venezuela, spilling into Colombia, Brazil and Guyana.”
You can listen to the full interview with Boehm on Saturday’s edition of CBC Radio’s The House and in the player below.