GATINEAU, Que. — Canada and its Western Hemisphere allies ended their latest summit on Thursday by calling on the rest of the democratic world to join them in inspiring downtrodden Venezuelans to peacefully replace their dictator.
But beyond their expressions of solidarity, and a clear call for a new and fair and democratic round of presidential elections, they offered no practical steps on how to bring stability to Venezuela, now hobbled by a refugee crisis and economic collapse under a dictator they deem illegitimate.
“We need to reinvigorate our efforts,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Thursday as he wrapped the Lima Group meeting in Gatineau, Que.
“Today, my colleagues from the Lima Group, we are issuing an appeal to all countries who share our desire to see a return to democracy, to join together.”
Canada hosted the gathering of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the coalition of more than a dozen Western Hemisphere countries, minus the United States, who are trying to solve the Venezuela crisis.
The meeting was part of a new push for a presidential election in Venezuela, one aimed at ousting the country’s dictator president, Nicolas Maduro.
Canada last hosted the Lima Group one year ago, and that meeting resulted in a call to Venezuela’s military to peacefully switch sides to the opposition, but that never happened.
Canada and dozens of other countries recognize opposition legislator Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, and view Maduro as an illegitimate president who stole his country’s last election in 2018.
“The solution needs to be, in the first place, a Venezuelan solution with the support of the international community. This is part of the message … We are sending a strong message of unity behind the only way to return Venezuela to democracy,” said Peru’s Foreign Minister Gustavo Meza-Cuadra.
Guaido was not at the meeting at the Canadian Museum of History across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, but was recently in Ottawa as part of a multi-country tour of Europe and the U.S. to bolster support for this democracy-building efforts.
“His international tour clearly demonstrated how strongly the world supports a return to democracy in Venezuela,” said Champagne.
Champagne said Guaido told him privately that he relies on the Lima Group to provide momentum to him and his people.
The United Nations estimates that six million Venezuelans will have fled their country by the year’s end, as its economic, health and education systems collapse.
The exodus has fuelled concern among some UN officials that the migration out of Venezuela and into neighbouring countries might be irreversible as new migrants start new lives and Maduro clings to power in their hollowed-out country. Some fear that Venezuela, once oil-rich and prosperous, might be on a slide toward becoming a failed state.
“We are extremely concerned on the political, economic and humanitarian situation inside Venezuela and also outside because of the big exodus of Venezuelans to the region and to the world,” said Meza-Cuadra.
Ben Rowswell, Canada’s former ambassador there, said the Lima Group’s decision appeal to the broader international community was a smart move given the lack of progress in the last year.
“In order to do that, they’re willing to narrow their set of demands to one critical issue: free and fair elections for both the president and parliamentary level,” Rowswell, now the president of the Canadian International Council think-tank, said in an interview.
“There are opponents of democratic transition in the international community who have successfully blocked international consensus. Russia is the most prominent example,” he said, referring to its meddling in the recent re-election of Venezuela’s parliamentary speaker, which he said was an attempt to undermine Guaido.
“There is power in there being a wide swath of the international community being committed to free and fair elections.”