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John Kirk, Stephen Kimber Op-Ed in Toronto Star on Venezuela Print E-mail
Op-ed by John Kirk in the Toronto Star on Venezuela February 19, 2019

Should Canada pick sides in Venezuela? No
Tues., Feb. 19, 2019
You don’t have to support Nicolas Maduro to believe the Canadian government’s attempt to change Venezuela’s governing regime by ministerial fiat is not only wrong-headed but also almost certain to be counterproductive.

Accept for the moment — we do — the validity of the cascading criticisms of Maduro’s government: its authoritarian style, economic mismanagement, corruption, polarization, electoral jiggery-pokery.

None of that justifies Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland conspiring with often unsavoury Latin American partners and a bellicose United States to intervene in another country’s internal affairs.

This is not the way we do — or have done, or should do — international policy-making.

It is the American way. Remember Washington’s role in the 1973 overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende, the 1989 invasion of Panama, the many assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, even the short-lived 2002 coup in Venezuela, which Washington blessed?

The American hand is also all over this latest — let’s call it what it is — attempted coup. Why? Because Venezuela’s government is socialist and because it has the world’s largest oil deposits.

The current key U.S. policy players on Venezuela — National Security Advisor John Bolton, who supports military intervention in Syria, Libya, Iran and Cuba, and Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of lying to Congress over the Iran-Contra scandal in Nicaragua — are notorious Latin American regime-change advocates.

Why would Canada throw its lot in with this crew?

Although many countries questioned Venezuela’s 2018 presidential elections, the Lima Group, of which Canada is a leader, has led the push for Maduro’s ouster.

The Lima Group includes the president of Honduras, who was “re-elected” in 2017 after overruling the constitution, which forbade re-election; the president of Guatemala, who expelled representatives of an international commission after he and his family members were accused of massive corruption; and the president of Brazil, who supports his country’s military dictatorship.

This “democratic” alliance wants Maduro out and a man named Juan Guaidó in.

As recently as two months ago, 90 per cent of Venezuelans had never heard of Guaidó, one among 164 members of the country’s national assembly. But then, on Jan. 23 — the day he won an internationally orchestrated election to be president of the assembly — Guaidó declared himself president of the whole country.

The U.S. and Canada led an unseemly rush to bless his self-ascension, arguing it was legal under a clause in the country’s constitution that states the country’s president can be replaced by the national assembly president if he dies, resigns, is removed from office by the courts, suffers permanent physical or mental disability, abandons his position or is recalled by popular vote. None of that happened.

It is a bit like Nancy Pelosi declaring herself U.S. president after a disputed national election rife with allegations of foreign interference, voter suppression and a voting system rigged against the voters’ choice — and Canada rushing to recognize her.

As much as some of us would like to see that happen, Canadians believe in “rules-driven” foreign policy.

If we are concerned about how another country is acting, there are options: the United Nations Secretary General has offered to help broker an end to this crisis. So has Pope Francis. Mexico and Uruguay are promoting a “made-in-Venezuela” solution.

Meanwhile, Canada tacitly endorses a politicized U.S. photo-op strategy of using “whether-the-government-wants-it-or-not” aid to prey upon desperate, hungry people. We are not, however, working with the Red Cross or the UN to provide badly needed humanitarian assistance and end massive sanctions, which a UN special rapporteur recently warned “can lead to starvation and medical shortages.”

There will be consequences. For our international standing. For Venezuela.

The reality in Venezuela is far more nuanced than one-dimensional international news headlines suggest. Plenty of Venezuelans, especially the poor, support Maduro. A recent poll by Hinterlaces, a reputable Venezuelan polling firm, shows 57 per cent believe Maduro is the legitimate president; only 32 per cent say Guaidó. To complicate matters, the military is powerful, weapons are easily available.

Whatever happens in Venezuela will not be pleasant — and may well result in widespread bloodshed. Our interference will not make that less likely. It may even exacerbate the crisis.

We should heed the advice of the 15-country Caribbean Community, which this week condemned “sabre-rattling by the internal and external contenders” playing “a form of geopolitical chess and brinkmanship.”

By taking a side, we are now on the wrong side.

John Kirk is Professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University. He is the author/co-editor of 18 books on Latin America.Stephen Kimber is a professor of journalism at the University of King’s College and the author of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
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