June 9, 2019 1:21 pm

Venezuela closing consulates in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal amid diplomatic tensions

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday spoke about the ongoing political situation in Venezuela, saying there is an "international convergence' around a peaceful transition in power and that Cuba has a "part to play."

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Venezuela is temporarily closing its consulates in three Canadian cities and will leave open only its embassy in Ottawa.

In a statement posted online on Saturday, the Venezuelan foreign ministry said the decision to close its consulates in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal is a response to Canada’s decision last week to shut down its embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, amid worsening diplomatic tensions.

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“The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela denounces the decision of the Government of Canada to temporarily close its Embassy in Caracas,” the statement reads. It goes on to accuse the decision of being “a political decision that reflects the continued hostility of that government towards Venezuela.”

It also accused Canada of “disciplined subordination to the aggression of the Trump Administration against the Venezuelan people and its democratic institutions.”

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The Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa will handle all consular services until such point as the consulates reopen.

Canadian officials said last week their decision to close the embassy in Caracas came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who Canada and dozens of other democratic countries say is illegitimate following a 2018 election widely condemned as fraudulent, refused to issue accreditation for necessary staff.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has indicated that refusal is linked to Canada’s participation in the Lima Group.

The Lima Group is made up of 13 countries, including Canada, that do not recognize the results of the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential election and instead recognizes the democratically elected National Assembly, which is Venezuela’s legislature and led by the opposition parties.

READ MORE: A ‘staggering’ 4 million people have fled crisis-stricken Venezuela, UN says

The leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, is recognized by the Lima Group and more than 50 other countries as the interim president of Venezuela, pending a legitimate election.

Maduro has, over the last several years, consolidated power using means such as stripping the National Assembly of its power, and moved the country deeper into the grip of authoritarian rule and away from democracy.

Russia and China support Maduro as president, and the collapse of democracy in a Western Hemisphere country has prompted significant international mobilization to try to get the country back on track.

But the democratic crisis comes amid severe economic problems including hyperinflation and extreme shortages of everything from food, power, and medicines.

The United Nations estimates roughly four million Venezuelans have fled the economic and humanitarian crisis since it began in 2015.

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