Juan Guaido is the legitimate interim president of Venezuela.
That is the position of the Canadian government which on Wednesday, confirmed to Global News it will recognize the country’s opposition leader as interim president. That move comes as the Trump administration ratcheted up pressure on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday, also recognizing Guaido as the interim president and signalled potential new sanctions against its vital oil sector.
“So, let me say on behalf of Canada that we recognize and express our full support for the interim presidency of Venezuela assumed by the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in compliance with the constitution of Venezuela,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a press conference from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.
“And, we the members of the Lima Group are preparing a fuller written statement, which we hope will come out very soon. It’s an important day for Venezuela.”
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The Lima Group is made up of 14 countries including Canada that seek an end to the political crisis in Venezuela. It was established in 2017 to call for free and fair elections, the release of political prisoners and a return to democracy.
Speaking on background, a Canadian official told Global News the decision to recognize Guaido was made as a whole by the Lima Group and that members recognizing Guaido expect him to call an election within 30 days.
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In a statement, 11 of the 14 members of the the Lima Group said that they support “the beginning of the process of democratic transition in Venezuela within the framework of its Constitution, in order to hold new elections, in the shortest time, with the participation of all political actors and with the international guarantees and standards necessary for a democratic process.”
Mexico, which continues to recognize President Maduro, did not sign the declaration.
The group also condemned violence and erosion of the rule of law in Venezuela, and urged peace and an orderly transition of government.
Mass street protests are underway against Maduro across Venezuela.
While the United States is not a member of the Lima Group, Trump issued a statement threatening to use all available economic and political tools to restore democracy in the country and calling Maduro “illegitimate.”
“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” Trump said in a statement, encouraging other governments in the Western Hemisphere to also recognize Guaido.
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The administration had been waiting to issue its announcement after Guaido had been sworn in as the country’s temporary president on Wednesday, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Maduro has given American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country and says he is breaking off diplomatic relations with the U.S. There is no word yet on whether the same measures will be applied to Canada.
Earlier this month, Canada and the Lima Group members condemned a widely-derided election in May 2018 as lacking “legitimacy.”
In a Jan. 4, 2019, statement, Canada and the Lima Group warned they would not recognize the new presidential term of Maduro that had been set to begin on Jan. 10, 2019.
Maduro was sworn in anyway and calls began growing for Guaido to assume the presidency given the election was widely boycotted and was described by the U.S., Canada and others, as fraudulent.
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Guaido, 35, was elected to head the Venezuelan Congress on Jan. 5, 2019, and has promised a transition to a new government and free elections.
Concerns have been raised that recognition of Guaido could lead Maduro to attempt to detain him.
Venezuela is in the midst of a hyperinflationary economic collapse.
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The decision by the U.S. to apparently consider new sanctions on the oil sector, which is vital to the Venezuelan economy, could lead to further deterioration of an already-tense situation between pro-Maduro factions, opposition support for Guaido, military support for his transition and the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have mobilized in recent days to demand a return to democracy.
U.S. officials are considering a range of potential measures, Reuters reports, including restricting U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil or even a full ban, to punish Maduro’s government, but no final decisions have been made as Washington closely watches the street protests unfolding in the country.
Two other sources briefed on the matter said the U.S. administration had privately informed U.S. energy companies of its deliberations.
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Since late last year, the White House has also been considering whether to put Venezuela on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, U.S. officials have said.
The White House has been growing frustrated with existing sanctions on Venezuela which have so far spared oil exports, feeling they have not had the desired effect.
Cutting off Venezuela’s exports would choke off revenue to the Western Hemisphere’s only OPEC member-nation.
The United States has held off on broad, oil-related measures for now, mindful of the potential not only for deepening the suffering of the Venezuelan people but also the risk of causing problems for U.S. companies and consumers.
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— With files from Reuters and Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson
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