By A. Montenegro and V.I. Avila

On Monday February 4, members of the Lima Group met in Ottawa to discuss increasing international pressure to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, from office.

The Lima Group meeting — with representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia and led by Canada through Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland — reaffirmed recognition of opposition leader, and self-declared Interim President, Juan Guaido. The talks were met by protests throughout the day, contesting Canada’s imperialist role in vindicating the recent coup attempt and the growing threat of a military invasion in Venezuela.

The only way to deal with the ongoing situation in Venezuela is dialogue

While the declaration drafted by participating Lima Group members reiterated “support for a process of peaceful transition,” the document also called on the “National Armed Forces of Venezuela to demonstrate their loyalty” to Juan Guaido as their “Commander and Chief.”

When questioned about the possibility of military intervention, Venezuelan officials representing Guaido at the Ottawa meeting did not rule it out.

Initially involved as part of the original twelve American states that comprised the Lima Group, Mexico was notably absent from the talks. Instead, the country opted to join the newly formed Montevideo Initiative — a convergence between Uruguay and EU representatives calling for dialogue between government and opposition parties—which took place in the days following the Ottawa Lima Group meeting.

“The only way to deal with the ongoing situation in Venezuela is dialogue… The historic position of our countries has always been to privilege diplomacy over other alternatives as the only way to bring about peace and stability in a manner that is sustainable, legitimate and effective,” said Nin Novoa, the current Chancellor of Uruguay.

Members of the press gallery crash Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, Canada, while holding a banner and throwing leaflets
     Credit: Screenshot via TeleSur English broadcast

Lima Group enforces press censorship amidst protests

The Lima Group meetings, however, were met by protests throughout the day and across the country. Protests took place in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver denouncing Canada’s involvement in the talks, citing the recognition of Guaido as a step towards attempting a coup against the Venezuelan government.

“A stupid and deadly war [against Venezuela] is being prepared behind these walls,” stated Pierre LeBlanc, in front of a group of demonstrators outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

An activist from the Ottawa Hands Ooff Venezuela Coalition, LeBlanc reiterated that the protests sought to “support Venezuela,” sending a message to the Canadian government that the Lima Group talks “are a transgression of international law and the United Nations in respect to the territorial and national sovereignty [of nations] to choose their government and economic system.”

National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Mike Palecek said the protesters wanted to send a message that Canada should not interfere in a foreign democracy.

“There’s no doubt that there’s problems,” Palecek stated. “A lot of those problems are a result of precisely of the economic sanctions levied against Venezuela and the fact that we’ve seen oil prices crash globally.”

However, the most dramatic protest of the day took place during the closing Lima Group press conference. Seeing the group’s actions as little more than a polite screen for their ongoing economic and political imperialist policies in Venezuela, two members of the press gallery interrupted the Group’s prepared public statements, just as Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland began addressing the crowd.

Members of the Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu, an Indigenous Mapuche solidarity organization based in Toronto claimed responsibility for the action.

“We interrupted the Lima Group talk at Old City Hall, Ottawa, Canada, in solidarity with the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela against international intervention,” the organization stated in a Facebook post. “We, as the Indigenous peoples of Abya Yala, are in solidarity with the Revolutionary Bolivarian process and its government for self-determination.”

The journalists were forcefully escorted from the premises by security personnel after the interruption, which made international headlines around the world. No charges were reported.

The interruption came after Global Affairs Canada denied press accreditation to South America’s main alternative media source, TeleSur, to cover the Lima Group meeting. The ban also included a number of other international media sources, including the Russian Sputnik and RT networks.

Facebook and Twitter also censored several Cuban media outlets, including Granma and the Havana Free Press, on articles related to Venezuela in the lead up to the Ottawa Lima Group meeting, marking them uniformly as spam.

Officials at the Russian embassy in Ottawa denounced the decision to bar oppositional media by stating Canada’s actions were “highly reprehensible and shameful.”

“Deliberately targeting news agencies Sputnik and RIA, as well as TASS correspondent duly registered at the Press Gallery, runs contrary to Canada’s adherence to the freedom of speech and is nothing more than politically motivated harassment of reporters,” said a statement by the Russian embassy in Ottawa.

In a media release, the Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu stated that “as independent journalists of alternative media, we felt it was our responsibility to break the media silence as those who support the Bolivarian process.”

Reiterating that since there were “very few outlets for alternative news sources to hold a spotlight” on the current situation in Venezuela, the press release continued, “we felt that it was our responsibility to break this silence as best as we could, so that the world could know that not all Canadians are in favour of this intervention.”

Background on the current Venezuelan crisis

On January 23, opposition leader of the National Assembly Juan Guaido, then a relatively unknown politician, self-declared himself the Interim President of Venezuela, announcing he would assume Maduro’s powers temporarily.  Citing a constitutional amendment that allows for the head of the legislature to lead a caretaker government in lieu of an acting President, Guaido’s move was recognized by the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Peru and Chile within hours of the announcement.

However, Venezuelan officials and other regional specialists have regarded the move as an attempted coup. Political scientist and activist George Ciccariello-Maher at Drexel University argues that the opposition strategy is based on Article 233 of the Constitution, which grants the National Assembly the power to declare a president’s “abandonment” of the office.

“Of course, the kicker is that Maduro hasn’t done anything of the sort, and only the Supreme Court can disqualify sitting presidents,” Ciccariello-Maher wrote in an article into The Nation. “Despite cries of dictatorship, the opposition did win the last election they contested—taking over the Assembly in late 2015 and using their platform to try to overthrow Maduro.”.

In May 2018, most of Venezuela’s opposition parties openly boycotted the recent Presidential elections. However, previous opposition attempts to boycott elections — most notably in 2005 — had previously resulted in the strengthening of the Chavista Socialist Bolivarian process.  

Venezuela, a country engulfed by economic sanctions by the United States and Lima Group members — including Canada — has recently been suffering from the most acute economic crisis since the Great Depression. Historians and other activists have pointed at the long history of capital boycotts in a region plagued by US intervention.

“If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it before,” stated Ciccariello-Maher. The United States has “overseen a rightward shift across the hemisphere, whether through elections in Argentina, Guatemala, and Chile, or so-called ‘soft’ coups in Paraguay and Brazil.”

“They are trying to make history repeat itself by installing puppet governments friendly to North American interests every time a nation decides to tread its own path against the national elite,” the Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu concludes in their press release. “So thus we condemn the actions of the Lima Group, and that of our own government for spearheading these interventionist and violent policies.”

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