Trudeau Rallies Venezuela's Neighbors in Support of Guaido

Stephen Wicary and Josh Wingrove
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Trudeau Rallies Venezuela's Neighbors in Support of Guaido

Trudeau Rallies Venezuela's Neighbors in Support of Guaido

(Bloomberg) -- Justin Trudeau brought together Venezuela’s neighbors to voice support for a peaceful handover of power, making a modest pledge of humanitarian aid for the country and those who’ve fled economic crisis under the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

The Canadian prime minister hosted the Lima Group, which includes Brazil, Colombia and other Latin American nations, Monday in Ottawa. The group recognized Juan Guaido as interim president and welcomed his Venezuelan government-in-waiting into its ranks as Maduro digs in against international pressure spearheaded by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Everyone here today wants the same thing for Venezuela, a peaceful transition to democracy, free and fair elections, a return of political accountability and transparency and the respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Venezuelans,” Trudeau’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, told reporters after the meeting wrapped up.

Pressed about the possibility of military intervention, she cited the commitment in the Lima Group’s communique calling for a peaceful transition “without the use of force.” The Trump administration maintains that all options remain on the table.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said the Lima Group is focused on getting humanitarian aid into the country and called on Venezuela’s military not to interfere. “We have also urged the national armed forces of Venezuela to recognize their commander in chief Juan Guaido, the acting president,’’ he said through a translator.

Guaido’s envoy to Canada, Orlando Viera-Blanco, praised the group’s focus on providing aid to Venezuela, including such basics as food and medicine. Trudeau said at the start of the meeting that Canada would provide C$53 million ($40 million) in humanitarian funding. The bulk of the funds will go to “trusted partners and neighboring countries,” he said

Gregory Weeks, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, said aid pledges “are clearly pledges of support for Guaido” but noted that funds and supplies sent to neighboring countries or through multilateral agencies might be preferable. “If it gets sent to Venezuela directly, as the U.S. is planning, then the chance for confrontation is high,” Weeks said in a phone interview. “This is risky for any country that attempts it.”

Too Long

But for too long in the oil-rich South American nation, Trudeau said, the international community has witnessed “a dictatorship willing to use force, fear and coercion to retain power. The violation of human rights and the complete disregard for the rule of law shown by the regime has been both inexcusable and unacceptable.”

Absent from Monday’s meeting was Mexico. Once a Lima Group member, it isn’t participating under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The group also welcomed delegations from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Spain and others. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined the discussion via video link and Trump’s ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, attended in person.

Europe’s position on Venezuela hardened earlier Monday, with the U.K., Germany and France formalizing their support for the interim government.

Guaido’s economic mentor, Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann, took part in the talks, as did former National Assembly President Julio Borges. The closing press conference, however, was briefly interrupted by a pair of pro-Maduro protesters shouting “hands off Venezuela.”

With Guaido’s envoy to the U.S. vowing that the government-in-waiting would scrap requirements that Venezuela’s state oil firm keep a controlling stake in joint ventures, Freeland said Canada is exploring ways to help share its expertise in the sector. After democracy is restored "it’s also equally important to have a clear plan for the day after to ensure that a democratic Venezuela is very quickly able to return to freedom for its people, but also to prosperity for its people," she said.

Viera-Blanco said in an interview Sunday Maduro needs to heed the call of his own people, who filled the streets in the hundreds of thousands on Saturday, that it’s time to cede power peacefully. “We are trying to conduct the restoration of democracy in Venezuela in a peaceful manner, in a peaceful way,” he said.

Venezuelan human-rights observers noted over the weekend that Saturday’s demonstrations weren’t met by the usual response from Maduro’s security apparatus. “These were demonstrations with 2.5 million people all over Venezuela without any detentions, without any repression from the national forces,” Viera-Blanco said. “That is the message, and Mr. Maduro needs to understand the message.”

(Updates with conclusion of meetings throughout.)

--With assistance from Greg Quinn.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Wicary in Ottawa at swicary@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in Ottawa at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Theophilos Argitis at targitis@bloomberg.net, Chris Fournier, Robert Jameson

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