Canada announces $53-million in aid for Venezuela and refugees

Canada announces $53-million in aid for Venezuela and refugees

04/02 - 16:05 - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced $53-million in new Canadian funding to support the needs of Venezuelans, including the three million refugees who fled the humanitarian crisis in the South American country.

The Prime Minister made the announcement Monday morning in Ottawa at the 10th meeting of the Lima Group, a regional bloc tasked with finding a peaceful resolution to the Venezuelan crisis. Mr. Trudeau said the bulk of the funding will go to “trusted” organizations on the ground in Venezuela and neighbouring countries to support them as they handle the influx of refugees.

“We know that the people of Venezuela are facing tremendous hardship and they need our help, as do the countries who have taken in those fleeing violence,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The funding will provide emergency food assistance, health-care, water, sanitation, education and protection services, with a focus on the needs of women and girls. It will also help monitor and report on the human rights situation in Venezuela.

Since 2017, Canada has provided $2.21-million in humanitarian assistance to help the most vulnerable people affected by the Venezuelan crisis. Monday’s announcement brings that total to more than $55-million.

Last month, Canada joined the United States and other Lima Group members in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Jan. 23. Mr. Guaido is in a leadership showdown with socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whose regime has been accused of crimes against humanity, including ordering the military to commit extrajudicial killings and use of excessive force against protesters.

Mr. Trudeau said he spoke to Mr. Guaido on Sunday and personally conveyed Canada’s support for him. Speaking to the Lima Group Monday, Mr. Trudeau condemned the Maduro regime’s claim to power following “fraudulent” elections last May.

“The violation of human rights and the complete disregard for the rule of law shown by the [Maduro] regime has been both inexcusable and unacceptable,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“Juan Guaido has shown immense courage and conviction to follow the legal path to democracy.”

Mr. Guaido, a virtually unknown politician until he was elected leader of the National Assembly on Jan. 5, electrified Venezuela’s beleaguered opposition when he proclaimed himself interim president. He told Venezuelans the move was constitutional because the presidency was “vacated” after Mr. Maduro was re-elected last May in a vote that all key opposition leaders were barred from participating in.

Mr. Trudeau also took the opportunity to recognize Mr. Guaido’s representative to Canada, Orlando Viera-Blanco. However, the Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa remains under the control of the Maduro regime, so Mr. Viera-Blanco does not have any official diplomatic credentials in Canada.

Ministers from 13 of the 14 Lima Group member states – Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia – attended Monday’s meeting in Ottawa. Mexico, which has remained neutral on the situation in Venezuela, did not.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the group is meeting with the aim of aiding the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela. A spokesperson for her office told The Globe and Mail that Canada opposes the use of military intervention in the country – a marked contrast from the U.S. approach.

In an interview with CBS on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump said military intervention is “an option,” adding that he turned down a meeting request from Mr. Maduro months ago.

Canada has led an international effort to seek support for Mr. Guaido, with Mr. Trudeau calling numerous world leaders to discuss the Venezuelan crisis in recent weeks. Last year, Canada joined Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru in referring the situation in Venezuela to the International Criminal Court, which has since launched a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by the Maduro regime.

Ottawa has also imposed sanctions against 70 Maduro regime officials, freezing any Canadian assets they may have and banning them from travelling to Canada.

Eight European countries joined Guaido allies in recognizing his interim leadership Monday, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark. Although not part of the Lima Group, representatives from many of those European countries attended the meeting in Ottawa.

Ministers will use Monday’s meeting to discuss ways to channel humanitarian assistance into Venezuela, where the Maduro government has blocked foreign aid in the past.

“What Maduro should do immediately is grant proper access for the delivery of humanitarian products to Venezuela. He has been in denial about the humanitarian needs there,” British Minister of State for the Americas and Europe, Alan Duncan, told reporters at the Lima Group meeting.

The Venezuelan military is a key force that could determine who wins the showdown between Mr. Guaido and Mr. Maduro. Over the weekend, the country’s air force commander, General Francisco Esteban Yanez, publicly backed Mr. Guaido, saying he no longer recognizes Mr. Maduro as President.

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