February 4, 2019 6:33 am
Updated: February 5, 2019 1:03 am

Juan Guaido and Venezuela’s National Assembly are joining the Lima Group: Freeland

Canadian Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Venezuela's interim government, led by interim president Juan Guaido, has been welcomed as a full member of the Lima Group.

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The interim government of Venezuela under Juan Guaido is the newest member of the Lima Group.

In a press conference marking the end of a meeting of the group in Ottawa on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said members had agreed to welcome the National Assembly of Venezuela and interim president Juan Guaido into the group, which is pursuing a return to democracy in the country.

Dictator Nicolas Maduro has increasingly turned the country towards authoritarianism in recent years in the midst of a severe economic crisis.

READ MORE: Trudeau speaks with Venezuela’s Guaido ahead of Lima Group meeting

Members of the Lima Group last month denounced Maduro as illegitimate and recognized the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, Guaido, under the condition he call a free and fair election within 30 days. Determining how to move toward that and support Guaido in the process was a focus of the meeting in Ottawa.

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“Today we, the Lima Group, have taken the important step of welcoming the interim government as a full member of the Lima Group,” said Freeland.

She also added that the members had endorsed a joint communique that stressed the need for a peaceful transition without the use of force and that encouraged all democratic countries to join them in pledging the same.

“This is very much Canada’s position,” she added, noting that Canada is “absolutely not” considering military intervention and that the next meeting of the Lima Group will be held in Colombia.

“This is about allowing the people of Venezuela to follow their own constitution.”

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau urges international community to unite behind Juan Guaido

Canada is committing $53 million to help countries neighbouring Venezuela support the influx of refugees fleeing the economic and political crisis.

In opening remarks to mark the start of the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told gathered ministers from member countries and allies, including the U.K., the EU, France and Germany, that the world must unite in support of interim president Juan Guaido and commit to supporting the hardships facing the people of Venezuela as dictator Nicolas Maduro continues to cling to power.

“This is a pivotal moment for the people of Venezuela,” Trudeau told the gathering, which is being hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and comes amid massive protests against Maduro.

“The time for democratic transition in Venezuela is now.”

That aid will come on top of the $2.2 million Canada has already contributed to help address the humanitarian crisis caused by rampant hyperinflation and a severe lack of food and medicine.

Some three million Venezuelans have fled the crisis, which has neighouring countries like Brazil and Colombia struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.

Trudeau said most of the aid from Canada will go to “trusted partners” in neighbouring countries, and not to Venezuelan organizations or actors.

WATCH: Nicolas Maduro rejects ultimatums EU countries, asks Trump to ‘stop’ interfering in Venezuela

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office said Trudeau had spoken with Guaido, who made a surprise appearance at the opening of the meeting via prepared video.

Guaido, who leads the coalition of opposition parties with control of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president last month after Maduro was sworn in for a second term widely condemned as illegitimate due to a lack of free elections the previous year.

WATCH BELOW: Juan Guaido addresses Lima Group on Venezuela’s political crisis

Guaido’s declaration came after weeks of secret meetings with Lima Group countries, which agreed to support his declaration contingent on calls being made for free and fair elections within 30 days.

However, figuring out how to do that while Maduro clings to power with the support of much of the military has proved challenging.

“We are very close to reaching freedom and that is a result of the international support we’ve received,” Guaido said, urging more action from partners.

“Unfortunately, we are still under a dictatorship in Venezuela at the moment. That is why it is time to increase pressure.”

WATCH BELOW: Massive demonstrations in Venezuela demand Maduro’s resignation

Of the $53 million announced by Trudeau, the largest chunk of that — $18 million — will come in the form of “coordinated funding for governments affected by migration so they can better absorb the burden of providing services to a growing population.”

Another $16 million will go to humanitarian organizations providing food, health care, and water and sanitation.

Roughly $11 million of that is money previously announced at the G7 Summit last summer to support education for girls along the Colombian-Venezuelan border, while $887,000 will come in the form of “support to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights through Canada’s Peace and Stabilization Operations Program to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Venezuela.”

Peru will get $5 million to address gaps in the government systems for handling refugees from Venezuela.

A final $2 million will go to support jobs training for Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.

READ MORE: Canada will recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president, follows move by U.S. to do the same

The Lima Group meeting was described last week by Freeland as “urgent.”

The group was created in 2017 out of concerns about the spread of authoritarianism in the country under Maduro, who had ignored the constitution and attempted to circumvent the National Assembly of elected representatives.

Last year, the Canadian government also imposed sanctions on dozens of senior members of the regime there, including Maduro himself.

WATCH: Prime Minister Trudeau pledged $53 million to support the Venezuelan crisis

The U.S. announced last week it would also sanction Venezuela’s state-owned oil company in a move that is expected to sharpen the pressure on Maduro by targeting one of the major sources of cash still keeping his regime in power.

Canada has so far not applied sanctions to the oil industry and instead targeted individuals supporting the regime.

“We did devote a considerable amount of our time today to talking about how the Lima Group and the international community more broadly can support the eventual rebuilding of Venezuela,” Freeland said when asked about whether the Canadian oil industry can lend support to the economic and industrial recovery  once the transition back to democracy is accomplished.

“That is something which we have been discussing both with the representatives from Venezuela and with our international partners.”

WATCH: Canada providing $53M in aid for Venezuelans, as more world leaders demand Maduro step down

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